What Happens to the Clothes We Throw Away?: Watch Unravel, a Short Documentary on the Journey Our Waste Takes

When we throw our clothes away in the West, they don’t all go to a thrift store or to a recy­cling cen­ter or a local land­fill. Instead, every year 100,000 tons of clothes make their way across the ocean to India. In this aware­ness rais­ing short doc from UK-based film­mak­er Megh­na Gup­ta, we see the end point of these bales and bales of West­ern fash­ion, and the women and men who turn our waste back into thread. The thread then begins its own jour­ney, inevitably wind­ing back up as cheap import­ed clothes. And the cycle begins again.

Gup­ta lets the women speak for them­selves, in par­tic­u­lar Resh­ma, a young moth­er and wife who works in one such recy­cling cen­ter in Pani­pat, North India. We see her dai­ly life as well as the process turn­ing our castoffs into thread. Upon enter­ing the coun­try, the clothes are cut so they can’t be re-sold. Then women like Resh­ma remove but­tons, zip­pers, and any oth­er non-cloth com­po­nent.

Far, far away from even a pass­ing encounter with a West­ern­er (apart from what they’ve seen on the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel), Resh­ma and her co-work­ers cre­ate a nar­ra­tive and an image of the peo­ple send­ing all these clothes. The West must have a water short­age, Resh­ma says, that is stop­ping peo­ple from wash­ing their clothes. The West also must have a very strange diet to pro­duce the plus-size gar­ments they keep com­ing across.

Now, the West doesn’t have a water short­age, but accord­ing to EDGE (Emerg­ing Design­ers Get Exposed), the cloth­ing and tex­tile indus­try is the sec­ond largest pol­luter in the world, sec­ond only to oil, pro­duc­ing 20 per­cent of glob­al waste water, and a glob­al waste total of near­ly 13 mil­lion tons of fab­ric. Pro­duc­ing cot­ton is water-intensive—with 5,000 gal­lons need­ed just to make a pair of jeans and a t‑shirt.

Recy­cling is important—it’s been a con­stant mes­sage to the pub­lic since the 1970s. But the glob­al foot­print that this film hints at, all those car­go ships, all those trucks, all that fuel and those miles traveled…is this real­ly a solu­tion? How do we stop the demand and the dis­pos­abil­i­ty?

The doc doesn’t answer those ques­tions, and doesn’t mean to do so. It just wants you to see a small fam­i­ly in the mid­dle of a large glob­al machine. They seem hap­py enough. But they also see their fate as God-giv­en, at least in this life this time ’round.

“You tend to get dressed for oth­er peo­ple,” Reshma’s hus­band says. “But at the end of the day you’ll be as beau­ti­ful as God made you. All peo­ple have a nat­ur­al beau­ty.”

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

M.I.T. Com­put­er Pro­gram Alarm­ing­ly Pre­dicts in 1973 That Civ­i­liza­tion Will End by 2040

Watch Oscar-Nom­i­nat­ed Doc­u­men­tary Uni­verse, the Film that Inspired the Visu­al Effects of Stan­ley Kubrick’s 2001 and Gave the HAL 9000 Com­put­er Its Voice (1960)

Google Cre­ates a Dig­i­tal Archive of World Fash­ion: Fea­tures 30,000 Images, Cov­er­ing 3,000 Years of Fash­ion His­to­ry

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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