How often do you buy new clothes? How do you handle discarding the old? As it turns out, the answers to these two questions have a sizable environmental impact. Donating clothes to thrift stores always feels good, leaving you with the thought of your obsolete garments having a future on someone else. What I didn’t know was that only about 20% of donated clothing gets purchased, with the other 80% having a less sustainable fate.
Untaken clothing gets cut up and turned into industrial wiping rags, recycled into fiber to be used as stuffing and insulation, or bought by processors and shipped to a different continent. Companies used to recycle clothes for their fibers, but such recycling isn’t often done anymore due to the decrease in fabric quality.
The environmentally negative implications of the quick turn-around rate for clothing-both buying and discarding-result from the resources used in the cyclical process. Natural and nontoxic fabrics and dyes are still in the overall minority, and the energy required to produce the rest can’t be insignificant. It’s also interesting to wonder how third world countries might better use the energy currently put into manufacturing clothing if the U.S. didn’t consume so much.
Not to make anyone feel guilty about tearing up the department store every now and then (nothing wrong with a little superficially delivered confidence boost once in a while), but perhaps there are a few practices we can aspire to when it comes to clothing. If you do tend to a buy a lot of clothes, try to purchase the majority of them used from thrift stores. If you find yourself satisfied with your current closet, try to keep your clothing as long as possible. And when it does come time to let go of a few tired veterans of apparel, seek out ways to trade/sell/give away your clothing with tools like craigslist before donating them to stores. If you know of any other ways to stick it to the cycle, feel free to share them below.