Tagged: textile recycling

Defining Trash


Jodhpur, Rajasthan | This I Wear

There is a very clear difference between culture shock and experiencing an overwhelming culture. In my case, it is the latter as I knew what to expect when I arrived in India. I expected to give up many comforts from home, to experience an infinite influx of new sights/sounds/tastes/smells, and to wear bug spray 24/7. I expected to binge on souvenirs, to travel in rickshaws, and to see a drastic contrast between the wealthy and the poor. I also anticipated that there was just going to be a lot of people.

Given the sheer size of the Indian population, it is not surprising that there is a waste problem. Trash doesn’t disappear here – it remains a part of the community even after it has left the home. In fact, if there is a trash pickup service, it is probably an informal one. Trash picking is a livelihood for significant numbers of people. It is not uncommon to see a landfill excavated for anything of value to be reclaimed and sold or reused in creative ways.

Even beyond the trash pickers, reuse is part of the culture here. In Rajasthan, the textile capital of India, shops overflow with beautiful quilts, scarves and fabrics. Looking more closely at many of these products, it is easy to see how scraps from one item become the appliquéd camels on a patchwork bedspread or recycled sari fabrics are sewn together to create new items in a tradition known as Kantha. More formal recycling efforts are led by such organizations as Goonj that uses textile recycling both to create employment and to provide essential goods to those in need throughout India.

I, conscious of my limited experience, would like to propose that the main difference between India and the U.S. in this situation is in our definitions of trash. Let’s for a moment, consider the lowly dandelion: To the owner of the perfectly manicured lawn, it is a weed to be destroyed. To someone else, it’s a beautiful flower. It’s only a weed if you choose to see it as disruptive or inconvenient, and the same view applies to trash.

Waste is a problem in the U.S. even if we can’t see it as easily as on the streets of India, so the challenge to reduce what we send to the curb already exists. Will it only be when we are faced with limited resources and a visible pile of trash in our neighborhood that we will be willing (or forced) to reconsider our concept of waste? I hope not.

If you’re interested in exploring more sides to this topic, a few additional resources:
– Pietra Rivoli’s book, Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy (specifically the section on textile recycling and the secondhand clothing market in Africa)
– Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative is using some unconventional methods to keep their products out of landfills

Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear and share how you define trash.

One more thing, apologies for the delay in posting! Writing and prepping a post is a bit more of a challenge for the time being, but I’ve got some great interviews that I hope to share soon.

My backpack: Stocking up for roughing it

Belize Cargo Pants | This I Wear

In a few short weeks, I’m headed to India for three months. It will be my first time in the country, so I’ve been asking my friends who are local or who’ve traveled to India what I should bring, especially in regards to clothing. Their advice: pants, long(er) skirts, and tops with sleeves, all of which should be comfortable when sweaty and dirty yet still culturally appropriate.

And herein lies the dilemma. The clothes I bring are going to get roughed up – dirt, hardcore bug spray, sweat, aggressive laundering, etc. – and with such little packing capacity, I’ve considered that I may want to leave them there and fill up my backpack with souvenirs for my return journey instead. I did this in 2007 when I worked on a field research project in the wetlands of Belize. I spent less than $100 at a few chain stores and had to dispose of most of the clothes upon my return as the high percentage DEET literally began to degrade the fabric. One of the few things to survive was a pair of green Old Navy cargos. They are one of the most disgusting things I own yet continue to wear. I’d be embarrassed about this, except that when I wear these pants, I remember that summer that I wielded a machete, climbed Mayan temples, and got a fantastically ill, delaying my departure home. But I survived, and I learned so much about myself in those three weeks. Wearing those pants brings back the incredible confidence that comes with proving yourself wrong. I love those pants.

Because of all of these worries about if what I bring will survive, I’m leaving my favorite pieces safe at home in the States and getting back in the shopping game after a few lovely months of little to no consumption.

But is it ok to buy clothing, and in this case cheap clothing, with the intention of getting rid of it soon after purchase? What is the alternative in this situation?

Here’s what I’ve bought so far:
– Cotton capris from Old Navy (less than $10)
– Two knee-length cotton skirts (less than $10 each)
– Two knit skirts (less than $30 each)

I’m also bringing:
– Ankle-length Forever 21 dress
– Leggings which I’ll pair with locally-bought tunics
– Various t-shirts and long-sleeve tops
– Rain poncho
– Large pashmina for covering up and using as a travel blanket

Over the next few months, I will share what does end up in my backpack, what happens to it along the way, and what comes home with me. I don’t know what to expect quite yet, but this should be an interesting experiment.

Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear to share what you think: Have you ever bought something knowing it would be ruined and you would dispose of it shortly thereafter?

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