Did you know that it can take hundreds of years for synthetic clothing to decompose? Did you also know that there are over 20 BILLION pounds of clothing and textiles ending up in landfills EVERY YEAR in the United States alone?! It’s true. Sustainable fashion is a movement that covers a broad range of ideas, including better conditions for garment factory workers, less waste during production, environmentally-friendly fabrics, a focus on secondhand shopping, and a less-is-more belief around clothing. In short, sustainable fashion is focused on reducing the amount of waste caused by clothing, whether that is waste on the front end or the back end of its lifecycle. In a recent article by Huffington Post, it was noted that the average American throws out nearly 80 pounds of clothing every year. The thought of all of this stuff just sitting in a landfill for my entire lifetime, plus the lifetime of my daughter, makes me feel sick. And, it’s a problem that will just continue to snowball unless we change the way we think about clothes.
So what can you do to help?
There a few simple things you can do today that will help to turn this growing problem around.
WASH CLOTHES LESS OFTEN
Unless clothes are soiled or smell, you can probably get another wear out of them before having to wash. This is true for all of your laundry. One of the ways pollutants enter the ocean is through water sources (like Pittsburgh rivers) flowing into them. Many fabrics release tiny plastics, or microfibers, into the water during washes. This water eventually flows into the ocean by way of rivers and other water streams. Washing your clothing less often will cut back on the number of pollutants that make their way to the ocean.
RESPONSIBLY RECYCLE YOUR GENTLY WORN CLOTHING
Recycling gently worn clothes in lieu of throwing them away is a great way to responsibly dispose of your unwanted clothing. There are plenty of people in need and doing so is very simple. Places like the Salvation Army and Goodwill both accept gently worn clothing and provide you with a tax receipt. Consignment shops offer you cash for clothes as long as they are in demand and not too worn. Personally, I love to use ThredUp. I send them my gently worn clothing and, in return, receive store credit to my favorite sustainable retailers, like Cuyana and Reformation.
BUY CLOTHING SECONDHAND
I have gotten some of my absolute favorite pieces secondhand (like these Madewell flare jeans). Buying secondhand is great for many reasons. It’s wonderful because it doesn’t add to the growing problems that fast fashion creates for the environment and factory workers. But beyond that, it is much more affordable than buying new. I can often find pieces that have never been worn at more than 50% off the original retail price. With online consignment shops like ThredUp, Poshmark, and eBay, buying secondhand is a great option for finding new homes for previously loved items. Of course, online isn’t the only way to go. You can also find amazing secondhand and vintage retailers in your own backyard. In Pittsburgh, I loved Ruhling Woven‘s sleek vibe from the moment they opened in Lawrenceville. Highway Robbery Vintage also has some really fun and edgy pieces for those of you more daring than I. Of course, secondhand doesn’t have to mean vintage. There are plenty of local consignment shops, chains and independent, like Plato’s Closet and It’s Worth Repeating, a small consignment shop near my hometown.
LOOK FOR SPECIFIC FABRICS
Did you know that most polyester fabrics are not biodegradable? That means that it can take 20 to TWO HUNDRED years to decompose. Since many fast fashion retailers use cheaper fabrics like polyester, opt for more environmentally friendly options like cotton, silk, wool, linen, and cashmere. You may pay a bit extra for these fabrics but they will love you and the environment much more than their cheaper alternatives.
- Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion is an excellent read with a great deal of research. It details the transition to fast fashion and its impacts on human health and the environment. I highly recommend it.
- Style412 Lab is a weekly podcast focused on sustainable fashion. These discussions are eye-opening and extremely informative. You can find it on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.
- This article from move.org is geared towards people who are donating goods as a result of moving homes but it is chock full of resources, including various organizations for donating your clothes.
- ThredUp is my go-to for donating or selling gently used clothing. They’ve made the entire process so simple that there’s zero stress and you can either use the cash at your favorite sustainable retailers or donate it to your favorite charity. For any clothing received that is no longer usable, they will recycle it for you.
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