Too much garb in the garbage!

Many people I know think of recycling in terms of plastics, cans, glass, etc. However, we have a global problem with unwanted clothing.

According to the EPA, 84% of discarded clothing ends up in the landfill. In the last 20 years, Americans have doubled the amount of clothes they trash a year from 7 million tons to 14 million tons, which equates to about 80 pounds a year per person. Furthermore, more than 60 percent of fabric fibers made today are synthetic and made from fossil fuels, so when these clothing items end up in a landfill, they will never decay – they will sit there for however many thousands of years with all of the other plastic waste that’s thrown into the trash.

The problem of what to do with unwanted clothing is so large that there is currently no good way to deal with it all. Instead of putting unwanted clothing into your trash bound for the landfill, first determine if it can still be used. If it is still viable, please donate it to one of a number of charities that collect unwanted clothing (Goodwill, Salvation Army, Easter Seals, etc.). While this option is much better than the landfill, donating clothing is still not a “perfect” solution. Charities such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army only sell between 20-40% of clothing donated. The clothing they are not able to sell is then sold to textile recyclers.

Clothing that is sent to a textile recycler is sorted into several categories. About 30% of these textiles is turned into wiping rags for industrial uses, and another 25-30% is recycled into fiber for use as stuffing for upholstery, insulation, and others. The last 45% will remain clothing.

Higher-end pieces may be sent to Japan where there is a large market for vintage or American high-end fashion. The remaining unwanted clothing will be exported to developing nations. This is not a good solution either: exporting unwanted clothing to developing nations sounds like a great idea, however, when clothing is given to people for free, it greatly harms their local economies because the local market and demand for clothing collapses, injuring the livelihoods of local vendors and makers of clothing.

Another choice is to put unwanted textiles into your Simple Recycling bags and place on the curb, or you can bring them to a store with clothing recycling, such as H&M, to “recycle” it. Only 0.1% of clothing collected for recycling is actually recycled into new clothing.

The advent of low-cost, low-quality (also known as “fast fashion”) clothing suppliers such as H&M, Forever 21, Old Navy, etc. has increased the problem exponentially. When fashion is available inexpensively, people do not feel the need to wear an item more than a few times. Further, the entire goal of fast-fashion is to get styles quickly to consumers, and frequently stock new styles in the store, so the $10 skirt may only be “in style” for a short time. 

What can you do? Remember this quote attributed to Yves Saint Laurent: “Fashion fades, style is eternal.” For the clothing you already own that you do not want, please donate it, put it in Simple Recycling bag for pick-up on trash days, or bring to a retailer such as H&M. While these are not perfect options, they are much better than putting it directly into the landfill trash.  

For the future, in my opinion, the best thing you can do is to purchase your clothing thoughtfully. Really consider how much use you are going to get out of it. If it’s a cheap item that you think you’ll only wear a couple times, do not buy it. Focus on stocking your closet with higher-end pieces that are stylish, but not super trendy. The trendy items are the ones that are discarded the most.

Rethink your clothing shopping strategy as an investment and purchase high quality clothing “staples” that you can mix and match with each other. Higher quality items will last you much longer than cheap fast-fashion and save you money in the long run.

You will also slowly convert your closet and drawers into places that contain pieces of clothing that you actually want to wear because they fit well, are high quality and stylish (not trendy). This method of shopping will not only help the planet, but also will simplify your everyday life!

For example, instead of buying five pairs of $25 jeans, consider buying one or two $100+ pairs. Believe me, they will fit you better and be a lot more comfortable than the cheap ones anyhow! Jeans are a clothing staple that can be re-worn multiple times between washes, and if you keep them out of the dryer, they’ll last even longer. And finally, if you are looking to really make a difference, the most eco-conscious way to acquire clothing is to buy it second-hand from a consignment or thrift store. 

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Volume 13, Issue 13, Posted 10:30 AM, 07.06.2021