Keeping fabric out of landfills: The Kloth Cares movement wants 188 tonnes of your used clothes

The Kloth Cares movement aims to make responsible clothes disposal and recycling the norm in Malaysia.

Representatives of the partnering initiatives for the Kloth Cares Fabric Recycling campaign. In the centre of the group, flanking the bin are Nik Suzila Nik Hassan (left) representing Kloth Cares, Dale Warren (right) of Life Line Clothing Malaysia and in front of the bin in red is Tengku Zatashah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah of Selangor Youth Community (SAY Community). — Photo by Aizyl Azlee

What is the responsible way to dispose our used clothes?

Culturally, most Malaysians’ first reaction would be to donate them. Which is great, but what happens to the ones unfit for reuse?

Hopefully, it isn’t just dumped in the trash. Because like other everyday products that we consume, textiles are becoming a big problem in landfills.

“People don’t realise that most clothes today are made from synthetic fabric,” says Kloth Cares co-founder Nik Suzila Nik Hassan (Suzy).

“It’s basically plastic, and it takes a very long time to biodegrade, so it stays in landfills and pollutes over time.”

To raise awareness of this problem, the Kloth Cares Fabric Recycling Movement was launched in August 2018, to collect 188,000kg of fabric for recycling by 2020.

The campaign sees the combined effort of social enterprise Kloth Cares as the organisers, the Selangor Youth Community (SAY) as an outreach partner and Life Line Clothing Malaysia (LLCM) as the fabric recycling operator.

Suzy shares that she believes the sentimentality people have for their clothes could be the best starting point to get people thinking about a circular economy.  — Photo by Aizyl Azlee

More than half our clothes is plastic

Based on estimates in 2010, synthetic fibres make up 60.1% of the material of our clothes globally. That includes polyester, nylon, and acrylic among others, which are all forms of plastic.

If you think switching to more organic material like cotton would help, it actually comes with its own set of sustainability issues — it can take up to 2,700 litres of water to produce one cotton t-shirt.

Add to that the pollution that occurs in the manufacturing and dyeing of textiles in general, and you start to realise that the clothing industry is quite an overwhelming topic.

So where do we start?

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The LLCM factory, headed by CEO Dale Warren (pictured), handles an estimate of 50 tonnes of fabric waste weekly and could go up 70 tonnes during peak seasons like the Hari Raya and Chinese New Year festive seasons. — Photos by Aizyl Azlee

According to Suzy, our culture of donating clothes is already a big advantage in trying to establish a circular economy for fabric.

“We instinctively want to give a second life to our clothes,” Suzy says.

“Now we just need to educate the public on the different channels that exist for keeping textiles from wastefully reaching landfills at all.”

In 2015, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government estimated 3% of daily waste to be textile.

If that percentage is applied to 2018’s statistics of 38,000 metric tonnes of daily municipal solid waste, that would mean Malaysians are throwing out over 1 tonne of fabric a day.

What does Kloth Cares do with your clothes?

Fabric collected as part of the Kloth Cares campaign are thoroughly inspected and sorted into 369 types of garment categories.

Variables such as the condition, colour and material affect the value of the fabric, hence the many categories.

Waste fabric that are too worn can either be cut into industrial wiping clothes to be sold or processed into tiny refuse-derived fuel (RDF) pellets that can be used alongside coal. — Photo by Aizyl Azlee and Kloth Cares

But ultimately, there are three main outcomes based on quality grading:

  • Grade A garments are distributed to charities,
  • Grade B will be sold in second hand “bundle” or thrift stores,
  • Grade C garments are made into industrial wiping cloth to be sold or processed into refuse-derived fuel (RDF).

“All of the fabric is fully utilised. The ones that can’t be reused anymore ends up as RDF,” Suzy explains.

RDF can be used as secondary fuel alongside traditional sources such as coal.

You can adopt a bin or drop off clothes

Since the campaign’s launch in August last year, Kloth Cares has collected more than 75,000kg of unwanted fabrics as of January 2019.

If you would like to drop off your unwanted clothes, Kloth Cares bins have been set up in Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Johor (limited to Muar), and Selangor and the Klang Valley. Exact locations can be enquired via social media.

But it shouldn’t be hard to find. At time of writing, there are already more than 100 Kloth Cares fabric recycling partners and affiliates.

On the other hand, if you are looking to rally your neighbourhood to collectively dispose used clothes responsibly, you could adopt a bin.

There is a one-off mobilisation fee to be paid to acquire the bin (RM300 for corporate institutions, RM99 for public spaces, schools and NGOs). Logistics and scheduled fabric waste collection are free of charge.

The fabric collected is bought back at a rate of 10 sen per kg.

Details for getting in touch can be found at the Kloth Cares website. Stay updated via Facebook and Instagram for new bin locations for clothes drop offs.

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