Huge amount of fabric waste dumped

Whopping amount: Kloth Cares co-founder Nik Suzila surrounded by discarded fabric sent for recycling. — Photo courtesy of Kloth Cares

PETALING JAYA: Malaysians dumped a mind blowing 195,300 tonnes of fabric waste last year, with an expert saying that the bulk of this could have been recycled.

Here’s how much of a bundle that waste was – the weight of 19 Eiffel Towers put together!

Citing a 2018 study, SWCorp Malaysia, the agency tasked with regulating the management of solid waste and public cleansing in the country, revealed that the amount of fabric waste entering Malaysian landfills had doubled since 2012, from 2.8% to 6.3% last year.

Its deputy chief executive officer (technical) Dr Mohd Pauze Mohamad Taha said the fabric waste thrown last year accounted for about 6.3% of the total 3.1 million tonnes of solid waste filling up landfills last year.

The 2012 study was conducted by the National Solid Waste Management Department, which showed that the 2.8% of fabric waste was from combined household and industry, and commercial and institutional (ICI) solid waste.

“The 2012 percentage is significantly lower than the percentage of fabric waste in 2018. It means that the portion of fabric in our solid waste has increased, ” he said in an interview.

Pauze pointed out that more than 75% of fabric waste could be reused, recycled or processed to become solid fuel.

The waste management expert said SWCorp only managed to separately collect and save less than 1% of fabric waste from ending up in landfills.

According to a 2017 textile economy report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, clothing represents more than 60% of the total fabric used globally.

It is estimated that more than half of fast fashion produced is disposed of under a year.

Physical chemist Dr Tan Ching Hong said a major concern about fabric waste is that synthetic fibres, as the case with plastic, could take decades before biodegrading.

He said synthetic fabrics such as nylon, lycra, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyurethane (PU) and spandex could be made with the same raw material used to make plastic – crude oil.

The danger, Tan added, was that synthetic fabrics could be detrimental to the environment as it did not decompose, while on the other hand, the fashion industry was growing at an incredibly fast rate with new clothing lines every season.

It is widely reported that both lycra sports clothing and plastic straws could take between 20 and 200 years to decompose in landfills.

Comparatively, natural fabric like wool, cotton, silk, hemp and bamboo are able to biodegrade in as fast as one week to five years.

“A simple weighing on the timescale of decomposition and manufacturing will tell us that fabric waste is increasing, ” he said.

Tan said although synthetic fibre was not “all bad” as it was more durable than natural fibre, “mismanaging it will cost us dearly because of its long decomposition duration”.

According to Kloth Cares co-founder Nik Suzila Hassan, more than 60% of textiles were made from synthetic fibre.

“This makes fabric waste as harmful as plastic waste because fabric waste can take up to hundreds of years to decompose, ” she said.

Kloth Cares aims to reduce the amount of fabric waste ending up at landfills.

Fashion Revolution Malaysia country coordinator Sasibai Kimis encouraged Malaysians to choose natural fabrics when shopping for clothes.

“If you buy synthetic fabrics and throw it away, it’s going into the landfill waste system and you are literally throwing away plastic.”

She said when shopping for new clothes, the first thing she would do was to find out what material it was made of.

“If it has polyester and nylon, I put it away as that is as good as plastic, ” she said.

Sasibai said many “animal-friendly vegan leathers” in the market were made of non-biodegradable PU leather.

She said if the purchase of synthetic fabric such as sportswear was unavoidable, it was best to get a good quality product that could last much longer.

“You will then be throwing less waste and easing the impact on landfills, ” she said.

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