See How Much Sweatshop-Made Clothing Gets Trashed Every Two Minutes

A sculpture at Hong Kong's K11 shopping center raises awareness about the world's textile waste problem.

(Photo: Redress Asia/Facebook)

Jul 21, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Finding a cute outfit at a bargain price is usually what’s on the mind of most shoppers. But for the past two weeks, visitors at a popular mall in Hong Kong have been confronted by an art installation that turns the spotlight on the dark side of consumption. YWaste?, a series of letters packed with clothing items installed at the popular K11 mall in the Tsim Sha Tsui district, illustrates how out of control our textile waste problem has become.

The exhibit is the brainchild of Redress, a Hong Kong–based nonprofit that works to promote environmental sustainability in the fashion industry. The organization teamed up with students from a local university to construct the massive sculpture. The YWaste? letters are stuffed with nearly 800 pounds of trashed shirts, pants, skirts, and dresses—the same amount that’s dumped into landfills in Hong Kong every two minutes.

So, Why Should You Care? “We are now buying and treating clothes like disposable goods," reads a statement from Redress about the exhibit. "When we consume so much, we tend to dispose of more and this unpalatable pattern of clothing waste, which we see in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the world, is creating vast negative environmental and social impacts.”

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Textile waste isn’t only a problem in Asia. Each year, landfills in New York receive 1.4 billion pounds of discarded tops, bottoms, tablecloths, and towels—a situation that led the state to launch a massive recycling drive last year. But treating clothing as a disposable commodity also has a human cost. Much of the fast fashion that we buy, wear a few times, and then toss out is produced in sweatshops.

(Photo: Redress Asia/Facebook)

Working conditions in the sweatshops are known to be horrific—and sometimes they can be fatal. In 2013 the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killed more than 1,100 people and injured more than 2,500 others. It led major companies such as Walmart, Gap, and Sears to create the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, but enforcement of worker-safety regulations is unknown, and a sobering 60 percent of brands have no real idea what kind of circumstances their ready-for-mass-consumption items are manufactured under.

Redress and other activists hope that if people are informed about what's going on, they'll start to demand more ethical fashion. To that end, along with getting shoppers' attention with YWaste?, Redress passed out information educating them about minimizing clothing waste. Perhaps the cute outfits that went home from K11 over the past weeks will end up recycled instead of in the garbage.