Growing up in the age of technology, we are taught to move fast. Information moves fast, our computers move fast, our smart phones move even faster and we are expected to move just as quickly, absorbing this information and responding. We are trained to be little machines: input, output, increase of productivity, etc.
There is just one problem: we are not machines! We are human beings. The thing that makes people unique is our empathy, our ability to reason and our ability to change our minds or adapt situation-by-situation.
Do not misunderstand me: new inventions, technology and the vastness of the internet are all wonderful and beneficial things if used properly. The issue comes when every part of our lives and society pushes us to move quickly and to stop thinking about the things we are doing in the quest for efficiency.
We could all slow down.
Going "zero-waste," or "waste-conscious" makes you slow down. There is no, "I'll just run by the grocery store super fast and pick up this thing." If you want to make a quick meal, you have already done the meal prep ahead of time, etc. It forces you to think about what you are doing, where you are going, what you might need when you get there, where your food comes from, how it is made, etc.
Although this takes longer, this is a positive thing because as you think more about what you're doing and where you things come from, you begin to think of the world as more connected.
For me, my journey to a waste-conscious life began with coffee.
As a barista working in specialty coffee, we share cups of coffee as stories of people's lives from "seed-to-cup." This means that there are hands all along the way from planting that seed, to growing a baby coffee tree in a nursery, to planting it, waiting for it to grow for years, the flower budding, waiting months for a cherry, picking a cherry by hand, sorting it by hand, sending it to be processed, dried, hulled, bagged and then shipped. When it arrives at a roaster, it is then roasted and sent to a barista where that roasted coffee bean is ground and brewed to make the cup of coffee handed to you. Along this process, there are many hands and it is important to think of "the other end of the supply chain." For coffee, that is the coffee farmer and his/her workers. What are they being paid? How are they treated? How do they treat their employees? For long-term sustainability in producing specialty coffee, we focus on direct-trade or fair-trade relationships that help those farmers make enough money to continue planting and producing excellent coffee for years to come.
This mentality began to seep into other areas of my life and it started with clothes. Thirteen months ago, I had a thought that I simply could not shake: where do my clothes come from? Where does the fabric that makes them come from? Who is at the other end of the supply chain?
The sad reality of the fashion industry is that people are suffering the cost of our demand for affordable clothes that we change with every season. This is called "fast fashion" and it is the model that clothes move from the runway to stores and into our homes but these clothes are not made to last.
One year ago, I stopped buying new clothes with the exception of verifiable ethically-made goods. I began purchasing what I needed at thrift stores, buying secondhand or getting by with less.
After I allowed this mentality into my life: "where do my things come from and where do they go when I'm done with them?" there was no going back. It wasn't long after that I became more educated on trash, waste, landfills, the instability of recycling and I began living a waste-conscious life.
Since this was my gateway into living a zero-waste life, let's talk about fast fashion.
The dangers of Fast Fashion are two-fold. First, the other end of the supply chain includes workers working 12+ hour days with no breaks, being paid 10 cents an hour and working in unsafe conditions. Second, there is the negative environmental impact of how these clothes are made, and how quickly they are disposed of.
Your clothes were probably made by someone who was poorly treated, overworked and underpaid who perhaps made that garment while feeling unsafe. That should make you feel a little queasy.
Refinery29.com recently published an article titled, "Fast Fashion Brands aren't being Honest with You." Stephanie Klotz, communications manager at the C&A Foundation, which supports Fashion Revolution said, "your reputation-sensitive brands (are) opting in and disclosing their first and second-tier suppliers, but nobody is forcing them. If you go beyond brands and retailers to look at manufacturers, there’s very little information."
Even if your clothes were made by people paid a living wage in a decent workplace, there is no guarantee that the fabric those garments were made from was made in those same conditions. You have to go to the source. Most companies are not disclosing this information at all, but even if they do, they will exempt any information about the fabric-sourcing itself.
"The garment industry, like all truly global industries, is tangled up in complex debates about human rights violations, immigration, and corporate regulation. And companies still profit from exploitative governments." - Refinery29
Not only are our clothes not being ethically made but there is a ton of waste involved. The Ellen Macarthur foundation recently did a study showing that one garbage truck of textiles is wasted every single second. It goes to a landfill, or is burned.
"The globalised market has encouraged a "fast fashion" phenomenon where clothing is cheap and, therefore, easily disposed of and repurchased. Making clothes requires land and water as well as fossil fuels, chemical dyes, finishes and coatings, some of them toxic. Some of the fibres used in clothes can pollute our oceans and rivers, entering the food chain. There are also environmental issues when clothing is disposed of, with some ending up in landfill or dumped in overseas markets." - Sky News
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 84 percent of unwanted clothes in the United States in 2012 went into either a landfill or an incinerator.
A newsweek report states that, "In less than 20 years, the volume of clothing Americans toss each year has doubled from 7 million to 14 million tons, or an astounding 80 pounds per person. The EPA estimates that diverting all of those often-toxic trashed textiles into a recycling program would be the environmental equivalent of taking 7.3 million cars and their carbon dioxide emissions off the road."
These models of making cheap clothes that wear out and encouraging people to frequently buy new clothes are not only harming the people making them, but also our environment. With so many of these clothes going to landfills or being burned, we are not only harming the environment but creating a problem that builds on itself.
What can we do?
We can vote with our dollars. Buying secondhand promotes a cyclical economy where things are recycled and reused which is the kind of economy we want to create. This slowly will encourage brands to produce clothes that will last.
If we do purchase new items, we can purchase from ethically-made and eco-friendly brands.
A helpful tip, if you're wondering if a brand is eco-friendly or ethically-made is that, they will tell you if they are! If they do not say anything, they are probably not eco-friendly or ethically-sourced. It is a marketing point, for brands to advertise that they're doing the right thing because it is so rare for brands to do the right thing! Be careful though, just because someone tells you that they're clothes are made in America, you should still look into where their fabric comes from and how it is manufactured.
It is a slow road to change but by abstaining from purchasing from brands that harm people, and the environment and by putting dollars toward brands who care about people and the environment, we exemplify the kind of market we hope to create/promote.
This seems overwhelming, and sad but our small choices now make long-term impacts to build a better world!