Everything new is a well-forgotten old one, not a single Latvian resident intends to open the door of their closet, take a closer look and find clothes that they have not worn for years. Unlike the population, Latvian clothing manufacturers do not bend under the order of surplus textiles.
In the operation of Latvian manufacturing companies, textile waste is not actually generated. Local producers export 90% of the clothing produced here, including linen, so almost nothing of the finished products is recycled, or second-hand and recycled. Most companies that produce fabrics or blankets also recycle the waste from the production process into recyclable fibers themselves.
According to the data of the Latvian Association of Light Industry Enterprises (VRUA), all Latvian enterprises generate a total of 1,500–2,000 tons of unprocessed textile waste per year, which is incinerated. Relatively more textile waste is generated by the largest lingerie manufacturers, but for them, too, the design and cutting of clothes has become so automated nowadays that the remains of the fabric are actually small strips that can only be burned. No company can accept less than 2,000 tons for processing, but it is not worth buying larger equipment if there is nothing to recycle. Thus, it can be said with some certainty that Latvian clothing manufacturers do not generate textile waste.
The real problem of Latvia’s textile waste is growing elsewhere: it is an import problem. So what does Latvia export and import? Latvia annually exports 5,000–6,000 tons of clothing, but imports about 27,000 tons. Most of the ready-made clothes come from China, and we all know perfectly well that the quality of Chinese products is not always the highest.
This in turn means that they are actually things for one season. Every year, more than 1,000 tons of tights are imported to Latvia, which can only be burned after wear and tear. Also, bras are practically non-recyclable, they contain plastic and metal elements, lace, fastening hooks. They should be broken down before processing, but no one will undertake to do so. Even seemingly harmless garments like T-shirts are sold with patches, prints or even stickers. They are also very difficult to recycle, as anything other than textile fibers interferes with recycling. About 30% of all ready-made garments imported into Latvia are simply not recyclable.
But an even bigger problem is used clothes: every year most of the clothes imported to Latvia or 16,000 tons are imported second-hand, about half – from England. If in the past second hand was mostly meant for humanitarian purposes, now it has become a business: a third or even half of used clothing is sent to developing countries. In essence, Latvia has become an English textile waste warehouse.
In fact, we know perfectly well how to recycle the textile waste that is recyclable: a worn-out garment has to be disassembled, torn and a new fiber made. But there are two broad fields for growth.
Firstly, such recycled fiber will be cheaper than new ones, so there is a need for investment and subsidies from the state and local authorities, because no operator will do what is not profitable for him. It is not possible to sell recycled fiber at a price that will cover its production costs. The management of textile waste is an equal responsibility of buyers and producers, but it can be strengthened by activities on the part of the state that limit the entry of this textile waste into municipal landfills.
The second – much bigger – problem is that in order to recycle a textile product, it must be clean, but currently the majority of Latvians dispose of all textile waste in a household waste container. There, textiles become dirty and can no longer be used for recycling.
Special textile containers also end up with a lot of dirty products, although these containers are not a landfill – in this respect, our society has a lot to learn. And now add this dirty textile waste to the 30% that is not recyclable due to the properties of the material, and it will turn out that in reality it remains good in Latvia if 20% of recyclable textile waste from the whole huge amount.
As long as we do not change our habits and put clean, washed clothes in special containers, this figure will not change either. However, this is not the only result that can be influenced by public opinion. The only real way to avoid drowning in textile waste in the near future is to produce less clothing worldwide; to get there, it is necessary to change people’s thinking, because where there is no demand, there is no supply.