Post courtesy of Julia Kline and Sandra Junker
We had the exclusive chance to conduct an interview with planet earth. We asked her how she's doing, what people's fashion consumption is doing to her, and why recycling can't be the solution - at least not the way we do it.
Dear Earth, it's great that today we have the opportunity to learn from your experience over the last 4543 billion years. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. You are certainly quite busy with all kinds of crises, wars and other plagues that burden you. How are you doing?
Well, I must say I've been better. The last 200 years since the beginning of your so-called 'industrialisation' have taken their toll on me. Everywhere I look I'm being dug up, harvested, extracted and burned. I've got a fever and what depresses me most is that it's happening so fast. I am getting worse and worse and my oceans and forests and my inhabitants like mushrooms, plants, animals, don't manage to compensate for the destruction you humans create to build your roads, houses and cars, to tailor your clothes and to fly around. Your so-called fashion industry accounts for about 4% (1) of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause my fever. As you have no fur, I see that you need clothes to cover your bodies. Besides, you want to adorn yourselves with it - I get this, too. I also like to shine with my waterfalls, rainforests and glitter bugs. But seriously, does it have to be so many? Don’t you see me drowning in old clothes? They clog my rivers, pollute the sea, and pile up in my deserts. Besides the climate crisis, there are other problems I have. Last year, your climate scientist Rockström and his team found out that 6 out of 9 of the planetary boundaries (2) that allow you to live well on me have been exceeded. Especially the ‘novel entities’, all the substances that you produce yourselves but that my ecosystems can't absorb, like chemicals and especially micro-plastics are a real problem. The fashion industry contributes a significant part.
Thank you, dear Earth. Now I understand a little better how you are doing. I'm sorry to hear that you're sick in different places right now. Staying with the fashion industry, since we're doing this interview for a fashion magazine, I'd like to ask you what the industry is doing right now to reduce its bad impact on you and your ecosystems?
Good question. In any case, not enough. A lot has happened in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility in the last 10-15 years, but the overall balance of the industry is still increasing (3). To reach your so-called 1.5 degree target, the industry would have to cut its emissions by half by 2030. And that only means that the probability of my ecosystems tipping is lower, compared to a 2 degree warming. With a 1.5 degree warming I would still have an increased temperature. Well, back to the textile and clothing industry. So, from my point of view, what they're doing right now is they think they're approaching this problem with a solution called the 'circular economy‘. In principle, I think it's a good idea to think in cycles, the same way I design in nature. But the problem with textiles is that you mix way too many different fibres and chemicals. You can't get them apart at the end of their lives. I do this much simpler, but more on that later. As far as I know, less than 1% of garments are actually recycled into new garments right now (4). The rest, which your industry calls recycled and therefore 'sustainable', are materials made from PET bottles that could be recycled much more often if they were made into a bottle again. So this bottle-to-fibre recycling is actually not a circular design. It turns your bottle into a sweater that ends up in the garbage, or in my oceans, rivers, and soil, and it can't decompose. In addition, recycled polyester may even cause more of that nasty micro-plastics I mentioned earlier. (5)
What exactly is it about micro-plastics that plagues you? I think we humans are just beginning to understand the magnitude of this problem.
So, I would have to explain to you now how I recycle, but I'll do that later to make it not too complicated. The thing about micro-plastic is that it's everywhere. About 38% of the micro-plastic that's in my oceans comes from this clothing industry because they use so much synthetics(6). And well, what can I say, my recycling process just works differently than yours. I don't try to bring all the materials back together to recycle them, but quite the opposite. I distribute them all over, or they distribute themselves. They disperse. I think you call this entropy, or thermodynamics. Mass distributes itself over time and the chaos gets bigger (6). The problem with these micro-plastic particles is that they bind toxic chemicals, and this combination is just pretty dangerous. They are sort of microscopic trucks that are loaded with poison and spread that poison all over the environment. That's also why you're starting to find it everywhere: In Arctic snow, in breast milk, and in your blood (7). You're primarily concerned about what it's doing to you humans, but it's doing the same thing to all other living beings: it's being carried up the food chains. First it gets into plankton, then into small fish, bigger fish, mammals and also into you. And thus also the toxic substances that it has loaded, which can lead to all kinds of diseases and to whole ecosystems collapsing. But above all, you take in micro-plastics not only by water, but also by air. Especially in your indoor spaces. It enters your bodies through your respiratory system and can cause harm there (8). So the next time you enjoy a bit of fish or a pizza, think about how much plastic you're eating, which may be coming from your socks or other clothing.
Image 2 & 3
Thank you for these insights. But now I would be interested in how you do it, or why you think we humans design in the wrong way?
Well, I am already very old, and this process has developed over the last 4543 billion years. You can't do that right away, in the short time that you exist. But there are knowledge holders who have understood how I function and how my design and recycling processes work. I would like to share it with you. So, you have a misconception in your design. You are only thinking about how to sell the product. So, in order to design a product that doesn't make me sick at the end or during the use phase, you should consider what can happen to it in the end, from the start. Especially with textiles, it's the case that material is lost during use. So every time you wear a garment and wash it, tiny fibres break off and get into the environment. The ones that are lost during washing can be caught with filters, but the others cannot. In principle, this would not be a problem if you did not use toxic substances and chemicals in these fibres. But thank God, two guys have already thought about it and created the concept of Cradle to Cradle, to make an approach to how I design products - or plants, living things and rocks. So, if you want to do it like I do, you have to design products to be environmentally safe. So, don't include toxic chemicals or materials that my cycles can't break down. Your socks must be able to become flowers, your shoes mushrooms.
(Image 4 & 5) These flowers and mushrooms may eventually become a beetle, or a shark tooth, a cactus or squirrel skin. This is how I do it: All my products are based on a few building blocks: fats, sugars, starches and proteins. The cycle mostly works like this: Plants produce starch with the help of light, minerals from the earth and water. These plants are the food base for more complex structures, like animals and humans. Your bodies can build new, more complex cells from plant material. Then there is another important area in my cycle, the decomposers. These are for example fungi and bacteria, but also larger mammals and insects contribute their part (9). They break bodies and other structures back down into their original building blocks and make them accessible so that new structures can be created from them. So the textile and clothing industry is not only lacking the right design of only a few environmentally safe building blocks that can be recombined like Legos, but also the right infrastructure to break the components apart again. Ideally, this simply happens in nature, because your products can function in my recycling system and are environmentally safe.
That sounds complex. Now we have built a system that does not work according to the principles of nature, or your principles. To change this system will take a lot of work and also some time. What can we humans do in the meantime to reduce our negative footprint on you?
Use your clothes longer. Actually, 82% of the clothes could be cleaned, repaired, reworn or resold (10). You don't need so many clothes. Buy better quality clothes and use them for a long time. Fix them, take care of them, and make them your own. You are not just consumers, but creative beings. There are such wonderful craft-techniques for clothes to age gracefully and lovingly. For example, mindful mending, printing, or dyeing when there are stains on them. Your history is so intertwined with the history of textiles, you have only very recently unlearned how to use textiles. Re-empower yourselves with these techniques, get creative again and heal not only your clothes but also your hearts (Image 6). Furthermore, not every piece of clothing needs to be washed clean. Less washing and drying is also something you can do, It minimises the footprint tremendously. Hang out clothes to dry, do spot-cleaning or air out the clothes (Image 7). You've done all this before, you've just forgotten. Talk to your parents, grandparents, other cultures and exchange ideas. The knowledge is there, you would only have to share it again and to be creative together and to deal with clothes will do your consumption-wounded souls good. Also, go out more, enjoy nature, connect with me, because you are part of this great cycle and I do not want to lose you just because you think you need so much clothes and other stuff.
2. Graphic based on McKinsey & Company & Global Fashion Agenda, 2020, Fashion on climate. How the fashion industry can urgently act to reduce it's greenhouse gas emissions
2. Linn Persson*, Bethanie M. Carney Almroth, Christopher D. Collins, Sarah Cornell, Cynthia A. de Wit*, Miriam L. Diamond, Peter Fantke, Martin Hassellöv, Matthew MacLeod, Morten W. Ryberg, Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez, Zhanyun Wang, and Michael Zwicky Hauschild, “Outside the Safe Operating Space of the Planetary Boundary for Novel Entities” 2022, In Journal Environmental Science and Technology
3. Graphic based on McKinsey & Company & Global Fashion Agenda, 2020, Fashion on climate. How the fashion industry can urgently act to reduce it's greenhouse gas emissions.
4. Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future, 2017.
5. Boucher, J. and Friot, D. (2017). Primary Microplastics in the Oceans: A Global Evaluation of Sources.
6. Eleanor Banwell, Megan Schuknecht, Beth Rattner, Natasja Hulst, and Brian Dougherty, Biomimicry Institute,
7. The Guardian, ‘Microplastics found in human blood for the first time’.
8. Qun Zhang, Elvis Genbo Xu, Jiana Li, Qiqing Chen, Liping Ma, Eddy Y. Zeng, and Huahong Shi, A Review of Microplastics in Table Salt, Drinking Water, and Air: Direct Human Exposure, (2020).
9. Bernd Heinrich, Judith Schalansky, ‘Leben ohne Ende’, Matthes & Seitz Berlin, 2019.
10. Leading Circular 2021, The Climate Crisis, Carbon and Circular, 2021, accessed 1st of April 2023.