Why not melt your clothes and turn them into plastic?

5th September 2020 | Recycling

Fast fashion has changed the way we dress. We buy more clothes, more often, but wear them less. The average lifespan of a garment is just two years, and 87 per cent of unwanted clothing ends up in landfill or incinerators. Alina Bassi, founder of Kleiderly, wants to give our clothing waste another chance at a useful life. The 30-year-old chemical engineer has always cared about the threat of climate change – in her teens she made a film highlighting the environmental impact of Heathrow Airport – but she actually started her career in the oil industry, at a consultancy specialising in offshore drilling platforms.

“I learned so much there, but I knew it wasn’t quite right,” Bassi says. As a junior engineer, it was difficult to affect change in large corporations, and she wanted to make an impact. “It was against my personal values – I really wanted to work in sustainability.” After a few more years in the energy industry, she landed at bio-bean, a startup that turned waste coffee grounds from major UK café chains into product that could be burned for heat and fuel. “That coffee would have been composted and now we’re using it to replace wood as a fuel – it’s the kind of cycle that just makes sense,” she says.

After a year in Berlin as chief operating officer of Kaffeeform, another coffee recycling startup, Bassis was keen to branch out – used coffee grounds are not the biggest threat facing the planet. Instead, Bassi poured her efforts into tackling a much bigger polluter: the fashion industry.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, we produce 100 billion garments per year and this is set to double by 2050 to keep up with the rising demand created by fashion trends and seasons. The garments don’t last long enough to offset the carbon cost of producing the material (whether it’s natural or synthetic), creating the clothes, and then shipping them to customers. “Now that our clothing only lasts a couple of years, it makes no sense that we have such a high carbon footprint for something so short-lived,” Bassi says.

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