Who doesn’t like the great feeling that comes from wearing a stylish new shirt or dress? Worldwide, we just can’t seem to get enough of new clothing and the feeling that comes with it — and our bulging closets and dresser drawers reflect our indulgence. At the heart of it is a $1.3 trillion world clothing industry employing over 300 million workers. The industry, advertisers, our favorite shows, and even Instagram feeds and YouTube channels urge us to keep buying and to buy into “fast fashion” and the latest styles. However, with each purchase, the closet gets a little fuller. Then what happens? Sadly, most old clothing goes straight to the trash. Currently, only 15% of our used clothing is donated for reuse or recycling.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average American discards over 81 pounds of clothing each year, with about 70 pounds of it winding up in the landfill. That’s a lot of waste! Ask yourself these two questions: Are you buying more clothes than you really need? Are you disposing of your unwanted clothing in a way that ALL of it can be reused or recycled?
Worldwide, people are buying more garments than ever before, and they are using them less. From 2005 to 2015, global clothing production doubled, while the average number of times a garment was worn went down by over a third. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American family spends about $1,700 ($680 per person) on clothes annually. For some households, this dollar amount is no hardship, but for others it is. Families at nearly every economic level engage in excess spending, especially on clothes. Here are a few recommendations to reduce how much clothing you buy and waste.
Break bad buying habits
Train yourself to think before you buy. Avoid impulse purchases. Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale, you’re bored, or you have money to burn. Before purchasing a new piece of clothing, ask yourself, “Do I need this?” Consider how many times you will wear it. Will it sit in the closet because it doesn’t fit quite right or the color is odd? If clothing is not used, it is no bargain, no matter the price. Consider renting that one-use special occasion dress or suit through a local store or an online company, such as Rent the Runway.
For everyday work or casual clothing, consider buying fewer, higher-quality items that will last longer and not soon go out of style. Update clothes you currently have with new scarves or ties instead of buying a complete new outfit. Consider repairing or altering better garments instead of replacing them. Children’s clothes are often outgrown before they are worn out. Do you have to buy new? Organize a kids clothing swap with friends. Consignment or resale shops are great for both kids and adults and allow you to buy something that has already been manufactured, so it is easier on the environment. The same rules apply to shoes and purses. The idea is to create better spending habits and to splurge less.
Keep clothes out of the trash
For the unwanted clothing you do own, there is a fail-safe way to make sure it doesn’t go into a landfill: Don’t throw it in the trash! You can take nicer unwanted clothes to a consignment store where you will receive a portion of the sales price. Wearable used clothing or gently used household goods can be donated to national charities, such as Goodwill and The Salvation Army, or to local nonprofits or thrift stores. These organizations either provide the donated items directly to those in need or resell them to the public for a profit. The profits are used to fund their charitable programs. Most organizations have guidelines for what sorts of donated clothing they accept. Generally speaking, the smaller charities usually only accept nicer clothing that can still be worn.
Decades ago, all charities urged people to donate only good-quality clothing they would feel comfortable giving to a friend or family member, but times have changed. A whole new secondhand clothing and recycling market exists. Used textiles are a valued commodity. As a result, Goodwill and other textile recycling companies will take ALL of your clothing (including shoes), with very few exceptions! They do not accept fabric items or shoes with oily or hazardous chemicals on them or ones that are moldy, wet, or rotting. These would contaminate the other donated clothing. All other items are accepted.
Do you have a single threadbare sock, torn T-shirt, stained baby bib, or tiny swatch of leftover sewing fabric? Don’t trash them! You can either use these as cleaning cloths in the home, or you can donate them to Goodwill along with the reusable clothing items you normally donate. Goodwill representatives recommend placing unusable fabric scraps and permanently ruined clothing or shoes in a clear plastic bag labeled with the word “SALVAGE” for easier processing.
What happens with all of this donated clothing? Once collected, clothing is classified into three groups: reuse, rags, and fiber. The top-quality clothes are often resold, usually at the thrift store where they were donated. The mid-grade clothing items are exported to international markets. And unusable items are either cut into rags or ground up into fiber to make automotive insulation, stuffing for mattresses, emergency blankets, and other products. All of these options provide a second life for your unwanted clothing, keeping them out of the landfill longer!
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