The famous “Blue Marble” photograph depicted the Earth in an unfamiliar context and something unexpected was also in that photograph: an empty, black space in the background. The sheer intensity of this expanse offered more questions than answers: what else is out there? who? In the 60 years since that era, governments and hobbyists have searched the cosmos ceaselessly for other forms of life and other habitable planets. Neither have been found within a flyable distance and the longer the search continues, the more one thing becomes clear: this planet has to last us for a very long time. There is no “Plan B” when it comes to the Earth.
The Apollo missions began a new era of cosmological awareness that was almost too distracting. People wasted so much time peering into telescopes they lost sight of the world all around them. Instead of delving into the theories and possibilities of the unknown, turn your gaze like the astronauts 60 years ago and look at the Earth from your own fresh perspective.
"we’ve begun using clothing the same way we use plastic straws and chip bags: like it’s temporary.
For those in industrialized nations, sweeping forests and babbling streams are speckled here and there with Dasani bottles, McDonald’s lids, and Doritos bags. For the rest of the world, plastic washes up on the shores once it’s journeyed from the bodegas and convenience stores of big cities and small towns alike. These trivial, little items seem temporary because the amount of time they are in use is so short. Then they go in the trash; out of sight, out of mind.
The material that composes these items composes many of the items used on a daily basis: plastic. It’s cheap and easy to produce, so it’s used for the things that need to be cheap and plentiful like straws and packaging. Plastic’s versatility is unprecedented, but so is its durability. Plastic doesn’t wear down like natural materials because it’s highly processed and water-resistive. It can last from a few hundred to a few thousand years. Industries are making so much of it and using it in such a temporary way that it’s building up all around us. It doesn’t just go away, it’s in the oceans and under the soil and it’s changing the Earth in irreversible ways.
"Nylon, Polyester, Lycra, and Rayon are all plastic-based synthetic fabrics and, like other plastic products, they take hundreds to thousands of years to degrade."
Plastic is so versatile, it’s even used in clothing, and we’ve begun using clothing the same way we use plastic straws and chip bags: like it’s temporary. Nylon, Polyester, Lycra, and Rayon are all plastic-based synthetic fabrics and, like other plastic products, they take hundreds to thousands of years to degrade. Fashion trends, however, tend only to last a month to a couple weeks. Why are fashion products made out of a material that lasts so long if the amount of time they’re in style is so short?
Textiles are nearly 100% recyclable, including synthetics, and there’s no reason anything in the textile and apparel industry should be wasted. It’s not that it’s not possible to be zero-waste, it’s just that not enough companies are doing it or even trying. There’s an additional problem to the recycling issue because of the way companies mix different fibers together. In order to make products cheaper, companies mix natural fibers like cotton with synthetic fibers like polyester. This practice makes it very difficult to develop viable recycling solutions because of the complexity of separating the fibers back out.
"Textiles are nearly 100% recyclable, including synthetics, and there’s no reason anything in the textile and apparel industry should be wasted... [but] Of the total 25 billion pounds of textile waste, only 15% is donated or recycled."
Fast-fashion companies have even worked to add additional trend seasons so that the industry as a whole can move more product. More product flying off the shelves is more product flying into the trash. Numerous studies have found that people don’t want to take the time, money, or energy to maintain the garments they own. It’s cheaper and faster to buy a new shirt than to fix a button, remove a stain, or modify a hem. The clothes that aren’t wanted anymore end up in the trash can rather than a recycling plant because the industry isn’t investing in the technology or producing products that are easy to recycle. This carelessness dumps 21 billion pounds of textile waste to municipal, solid-waste landfills. Of the total 25 billion pounds of textile waste, only 15% is donated or recycled. Even then, donated clothing is often exported to Africa and India where its shredded for its fibers because, honestly, we don’t have the space for our own trash.