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China’s Next Problem Is Recycling 26 Million Tons of Discarded Clothes

First impressions are everything. For the Chinese citizens, a culture has spread to avoid recycled and reused clothing; in other countries ecofriendly and reused clothing aren’t regarded as negatively. This unfortunately doesn’t match up well with the 26 million tons of clothes that are discarded, and the 1% that actually gets recycled.

It’s hard to say why a problem like this started, but the government’s involvement certainly couldn’t have helped. In order to try and keep the market as hygienic as possible, the Chinese government has banned non-charitable sales of any used apparel, and with Covid-19 that perspective has only gotten worse.

Despite these issues, it’s clear that something needs to be done with these discard clothes. According to the Chinese environmental ministry, in 2018 200 million cubic meters of waste were dumped into their costal waters. And anything that doesn’t get recycled or dumped is incinerator, sending emissions into the environment. In response to limit the waste, the government mandate actually allows for official sorting of clothing as long as its in “excellent condition”. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been utilized by Chinese companies due to the limitations of the aforementioned mandate.

Employees sort, move and repack second hand apparel at a sorting facility run by Baijingyu, a second hand clothing trading firm in Hangzhou, China on Thursday, 15 October, 2020

Due to the lack of use for what clothes do get recycled, China has begun exporting to different countries across the world, accounting for 30% of Kenya’s used clothing specifically, and 6.4% of the worlds total 5 years ago. But despite this, a location that collects 70% of the China’s used clothing only donates 15% of it to poor regions in China.

Due to a lack of incentive, or the government hassle, or the stigma of culture, China’s recycled clothing industry has become bloated and in need of help. This issue continues to develop, especially with the era of covid-19 concerning everyone with heighten hygiene, so it’s hard to know where this will go. One can only hope things will lead to a more sustainable future.

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