The dry cleaning industry, traditionally viewed as a routine service sector, is increasingly under scrutiny for its environmental impact, particularly concerning the handling of uncollected clothes, which often end up as fashion waste. This article delves into the sustainability challenges of the dry cleaning industry, exploring who holds it accountable, and investigates potential solutions, including innovative approaches to repurpose and circularize this waste.
Accountability in the Dry Cleaning Industry
Currently, the dry cleaning industry operates with minimal oversight regarding its environmental practices. The primary focus has been on the chemicals used in the cleaning process, like perchloroethylene (perc), a solvent that is both effective in cleaning and harmful to the environment. However, the issue of fashion waste – specifically uncollected clothes – has largely flown under the radar.
There are no significant regulatory bodies specifically holding dry cleaners accountable for this aspect of waste. Environmental agencies and consumer protection bodies often oversee the chemical usage, but the fate of uncollected garments remains a grey area. This lack of accountability has led to an unchecked accumulation of clothing waste, much of which is perfectly usable.
Rethinking Industry Operations
The solution lies in rethinking how the dry cleaning industry operates. A circular approach to fashion waste can be a game-changer. Companies like onezero8 are pioneering in this space. Founded by Kuben Edwards, onezero8 takes the unclaimed garments from dry cleaners and upcycles them into new products. They focus particularly on items like men’s shirts, which are frequently left behind, transforming them into affordable, slow fashion garments.
This approach not only prevents these clothes from ending up in landfills but also challenges the perception of waste. Edward points out that even high-value items like Gucci dresses are discarded, questioning the rationale behind such waste. The potential of these textiles is immense, not just for clothing but for creating household products as well. However, the challenge is the high synthetic content in these fabrics, making repurposing difficult but not impossible.
Infrastructure and Financial Challenges
One of the biggest hurdles in this endeavor is infrastructure. The dry cleaning industry is not equipped for large-scale waste processing or upcycling. Moreover, initiatives like those of onezero8 require significant investment. Edward herself funds her project, highlighting a need for financial support in this sector.
“Is a sustainable audit for dry cleaners a viable solution, or does it already exist but not many talk about it”
To create a sustainable model, collaboration with government bodies, environmental organizations, and investors is crucial. This will not only provide the necessary infrastructure but also ensure that such initiatives are scalable and financially viable.
Global Perspective and Partnerships
The approach to handling fashion waste needs a global perspective. Instead of sending low-quality, worn-out clothes to developing countries – a practice that has been criticized for its neocolonial undertones – there is an opportunity to turn this into a respectful business partnership. High-quality garments from dry cleaners could be sent to countries where there is a market for reused and redesigned clothing. This would not only reduce waste but also provide economic opportunities in these regions.
However, this requires careful selection of partners who align with sustainability goals and ethical practices. It’s about creating a network where both sides benefit, transforming what was once waste into a valuable resource.
The dry cleaning industry’s approach to fashion waste is at a pivotal point. Innovators like Edward are leading the way in showing how we can rethink and repurpose what we once considered waste. However, for this movement to gain momentum, there needs to be a collaborative effort involving the industry, environmentalists, policymakers, and financial backers.
This initiative goes beyond just environmental benefits. It is about changing perceptions, creating new economic models, and building sustainable partnerships. The industry needs to embrace this challenge, looking at fashion waste not as an inevitable byproduct but as a resource that, if managed wisely, can contribute to a more sustainable and equitable world.