From Rags to Blankets: The Life Cycle of Clothes

Young Bloggers  /   /  By Mahati Kashyap
Stone Soup Magazine
June 2019

Have you ever wondered about the clothes you wear? Where they come from and what happens to them when you no longer need them? Recently, I got very interested in learning more about clothes. It all started when I went with my mother to a clothing donation box in the parking lot of a small mall near our home. Every few months, she collects all our unwanted clothes in a bag and drops them off into a big box. During this trip, for the first time, I wondered what happens to all the clothes that are deposited into the box. I asked a lot of questions and found many interesting answers. Read on to find out more about the life cycle of clothes and why unwanted clothes never belong in the trash!

Clothes are made from two main sources: natural and artificial. Natural sources are plant fibers like cotton, jute, bamboo, and rubber. Animal sources include silk, hide, wool, feathers and fur. Human researchers have also invented fibers such as nylon and polyester using chemicals in the lab. These are artificial fibers and are often used to make light, waterproof clothing such as sportswear and bathing suits. All these fibers require plenty of water, land and other natural resources to make. Clothing is usually made in developing countries because it is cheaper to make them there. Once the clothes are made, they get shipped to all over the world. This is how clothes get to stores near you!

Once you buy a piece of clothing, several things to happen to it:

● You may not like it
● It could become well worn and even raggedy
● You could outgrow it
● It could get out of season, for example, shorts in winter and jackets in summer.

● You wash it the wrong way and it shrinks!

Once you no longer need a piece of clothing:

● If it is in a good condition, it could be handed down
● You could drop it off in a donation or charity box
● You could sell it at a second-hand store

● You could throw it in the garbage can

Every year, each one of us throws about 70 lbs of clothing in the trash. One pound is equal to about three tee-shirts, nine pieces of kids clothes, and one pair of shoes. These trashed clothes end up in the landfill which is a large area where the trash in buried.

By throwing old clothes in the trash, it pollutes the environment and it is a waste of natural resources that went into making them. So, it is better to recycle clothes, even if they are torn and raggedy. But when we think of recycling we only think of bottles, paper and cans. Not clothes! Clothes cannot even be thrown in the regular recycling bin! So, what do we do? Even with our clothes we can practice “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

If clothes become too worn out to be handed down or sold, they can get dropped off at a donation box. Companies that recycle clothes provide these boxes at many convenient locations such as parking lots, malls etc. From here, the clothes get sorted according to their condition. Many clothes are sold back to developing countries. A city called Panipat in India in nicknamed “cast-off capital” of the world. In these places:

● Ships and trucks bring in recycled clothes from all over the world
● They are sorted into reds, blues, greens and blacks, and also according to their fiber
● Workers remove zippers, buttons and bales with small knives
● Machines shred the clothes into smaller pieces and remove the fibers to make yarn. Some of the pieces are used to stuff couches and cushions.

● The yarn is used to make blankets that are sold at a very low cost.

After big disasters like tsunami, earthquake or hurricane, families lose everything of theirs. These blankets are given to keep them safe and warm. This is a much better use of our torn clothes.

Now, I have learned that the life cycle of clothes does not end in a trash can. It can continue to live as a warm blanket for someone in a faraway place who has lost everything. So next time I buy a new piece of clothing, I will first ask myself if it looks good on me. Then, “how can I make it look good on my planet?” This is called sustainability and we can do this as kids too!

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One Comment
 
  1. KARTHIK MUKUNDAKRISHNAN June 2, 2019 at 8:13 am Reply

    Very beautifully and thoughtfully written article!

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