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‘Staggering’ Scale of Waste: Billions of Dollars in Online Clothing Returns Go Straight to Landfills

Even unsold items that haven’t been touched by a consumer are being trashed.

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Billions Dollars Online Clothing Returns Landfills
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(TMU) — We all know that consumerism is a force that’s destructive to the environment, but too frequently the blame is placed on cultural factors — for example, our personal habits as consumers.

However, the enormous burden placed on the environment is primarily due to the actions of the large corporations that manufacture and sell consumer goods like clothing.

The waste generated by the fashion industry is no secret. Even clothing industry magnate and designer Eileen Fisher famously admitted that “the clothing industry is the second-largest polluter in the world … second only to oil.”

However, according to Adria Vasil, an environmental journalist and chief editor of Corporate Knights magazine, the boom in online retailing over recent years has led to a shocking amount of perfectly decent clothing ending up in dumpsters and landfills.

If you’ve ever ordered a range of clothing online only to try it on and return those articles that don’t fit—Amazon.com doesn’t really have a dressing room, after all—you may be shocked to learn that those items you’ve returned go right into the trash. Vasil explained to CBC Radio:

“We’re buying more of our clothing online, but it’s actually hard because you don’t really know exactly the sizing. So what many of us are doing is called bracketing. We will buy a medium, small and large or, you know, an 8, 10 and 12, and try them all on and then return the two that don’t fit. Problem is, the two that we return are actually, in many cases, being landfilled. And the brands do not want to deal with those returns. So they’d rather just dump them.”

For online clothing companies, it’s just a matter of ensuring corporate profits. Vasil added:

“It actually costs a lot of companies more money to put somebody on the product, to visually eyeball it and say, is this up to standard, is it up to code? Is this going to get us sued? Did somebody tamper with this box in some way? And is this returnable?

And if it’s clothing, it has to be re-pressed and put back in a nice packaging. And for a lot of companies, it’s just not worth it. So they will literally just incinerate it, or send it to the dumpster.”

For those who are environmentally conscious, the wastefulness of the practice should be enraging. According to the United Nations, the multi-trillion dollar fashion industry produces roughly 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions due to its expansive global supply chains and energy-intensive production processes. That t-shirt you’re wearing for a local band or sports team probably traveled halfway across the globe in a Maersk container ship running on fossil fuels.

In the meantime, cotton—and especially organic cotton—requires over 5,000 gallons (20,000 liters) of water just to manufacture one t-shirt and a pair of jeans, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The UN also reports that cotton farming is responsible for 24 percent of insecticides and 11 percent of pesticides despite only using 3 percent of the world’s arable land.

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Even unsold items that haven’t been touched by a consumer are being trashed. In 2018, luxury fashion brand Burberry admitted that it junked about £90 million ($120 million USD) of clothes and accessories in the five years prior. Following public outcry, it halted the policy. Vasil explained:

“We’re seeing so many clothing brands, in particular, throwing out or incinerating clothes, as Burberry did. They were caught burning billions of dollars of clothes. H&M as well. And it was a scandal, you know, for people in the clothing industry. Finding out, if you’re a shopper, that billions of dollars are being burned because they do not want this ending up on the market, and undervaluing their clothes on shelves this year.”

When asked why companies don’t simply give their clothes to charities, Vasil noted that it may compromise the nature of certain brands as status symbols. She said:

“It’s an image thing. They’re trying to maintain exclusivity. They’re trying to maintain kind of the specialness of their product. But it’s really symptomatic of a larger issue with kind of our consumer culture right now.”

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However, some brands are fighting back against the wasteful practice. Patagonia, in particular, has established online and physical retail spaces dubbed “Better Than New” where slightly worn or defective clothing is repaired and resold. Meanwhile, France—which is home to several high fashion brands—banned the practice of destroying unsold consumer products this year.

Vasil recommends that rather than purchasing clothing we know we’ll return, we should instead consider donating. And if that sounds too expensive, we should consider buying our clothes at a thrift store. She said:

“A lot of us are buying new goods that we don’t really need. And there is an increased trend in second-hand shopping right now.

And so I would encourage you to partake in it and to look for brands that are actually part of the circular economy, that are, like Patagonia, repairing, refurbishing and fixing goods at the end of their life so that they can have a second life.

And so that we do not end up with so much waste.”

By Elias Marat | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Animals

Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral

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A massive 400-year-old hard coral discovered on the Great Barrier Reef has scientists expressing their sense of surprise and excitement.

Named Muga dambhi by the Manbarra people, the Indigenous group who have traditionally taken care of the land, the “exceptionally large” brown and cream-colored coral is located off the coast of Goolboodi or Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef.

It is believed that the coral was spawned some 421 to 438 years ago, meaning that its age predates the arrival of Captain James Cook and the advent of colonization in Australia, notes the Guardian.

The spectacular coral is about 35 feet wide and over 17 feet high, and is double the size of the nearest coral.

Scientists and members of the community participating in a marine science course discovered the specimen earlier this year.

While not the largest coral in the world, the huge find is of major significance to the local ecosystem, according to Adam Smith, an adjunct professor at James Cook University who wrote the field note on the find.

“It’s like a block of apartments,” Smith said. “It attracts other species. There’s other corals, there’s fish, there’s other animals around that use it for shelter or for feeding, so it’s pretty important for them.”

“It’s a bit like finding a giant redwood tree in the middle of a botanic gardens,” he added.

It is likely that the coral hasn’t been discovered for such a long time due to its location in a relatively remote and unvisited portion of a Marine National Park zone that enjoys a high degree of protection.

“Over the last 20 or 30 years, no one has noticed, or observed, or thought it newsworthy enough to share photos, or document, or do research on this giant coral,” Smith said.

The coral is in remarkable condition, with over 70 percent of its surface covered in live coral, coral rock and microalgae. No disease, bleaching or recently deceased coral has been recorded on the specimen.

“The cumulative impact of almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones over a period of four centuries, plus declining nearshore water quality contextualise the high resilience of this Porites coral,” the field note added.

The specific coral has been given the name Muga dhambi, meaning big coral, out of respect for the Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture of the Manbarra Traditional Owners.

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Environment

Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History

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For the first time in recorded history, torrential downpours of rain have struck Greenland’s icy summit nearly two miles above sea level.

Greenland, an environmentally sensitive island, is typically known for its majestic ice sheet and snowy climate, but this is fast changing due to a massive melt taking place this summer.

However, the typical snowfall has been replaced in recent years not simply by a few showers, but by heavy rainfall. The torrential downpour last week was so huge, in fact, that it washed away a terrifying amount of ice across some 337,000 square miles of the ice shelf’s surface, reports Earther.

Temperatures at the ice shelf had simultaneously warmed to a significant degree, with the summit reaching 33 degrees Fahrenheit – within a degree above freezing and the third time that the shelf has surpassed freezing temperatures this decade.

The fact that rain is falling on ice rather than snow is also significant because it is melting ice across much of southern Greenland, which already saw huge melting events last month, while hastening rising sea levels that threaten to submerge whole coastal cities and communities.

To make matters worse, any new ice formed by the freezing rainwater will not last long. The ice shelf currently existing on Greenland was formed by the compression of snow over innumerable years, which shines bright white and reflects sunlight away rather than absorbing it, as ice from frozen rain does.

The huge scale of the melt and accompanying rainfall illustrate the growing peril of rapidly warming climate conditions across the globe.

“This event by itself does not have a huge impact, but it’s indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland,” wrote Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”

“Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing,” Scambos told the Washington Post. “We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”

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Environment

South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash

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What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?

It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.

The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.

The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.

“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”

The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.

Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.

Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.

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