Many of us have come to enjoy “fast fashion” where clothes are made cheaply and discarded quickly as trends change. You know the stores that sell them and have probably felt the thinness of the fabric but decided that, given the price, it was good enough.
What you didn’t think about was that these great deals come with some serious human and environmental costs; and the environmental costs, which are less familiar, are far more serious than we realize.
Let’s get straight to the point: The fashion industry produces 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions. This is more emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
The fashion industry is the second largest consumer of water world-wide. It takes about 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton shirt and 2,000 gallons for a pair of jeans. And textile dyeing is the world’s second largest polluter of water. The dyeing process uses enough water to fill 2 million Olympic sized swimming pools each year.
Landfills, oceans and chemicals
What’s more, 85% of all textiles go to the landfill each year and, shockingly, this is the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes burned or dumped in a landfill every second. Landfills, including all the fabric, are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Washing clothes releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year – the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. Many of these fibers are polyester, a plastic found in an estimated 60% of garments.
Once in the ocean they threaten many species, including phytoplankton, a tiny organism that is the first link in the food chain and responsible for absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide and supplying almost 50% of the oxygen we breathe.
The production of clothing produces chemical waste, requires the use of pesticides, and the cutting of forests, an important greenhouse gas sink. All of this contributes to climate change and other environmental problems.
Steps to reduce waste
For those of us wanting to live more sustainably, there are steps that we can take to reduce these impacts.
Obviously, we can buy fewer clothes each year and not let the fashion industry shame us into purchasing the latest fad. This hasn’t been hard to do during the pandemic where sweats are the fashion choice for many.
We can wear our clothes longer. A family friend in his 70s proudly brags about wearing clothes and shoes that are decades old.
We can pass our clothes to a friend or family member. Remember growing up, getting clothes from an older sibling or neighbor? It felt like Christmas. There are also plenty of weekend garage sales that are especially good for infant and children’s clothing.
Mothers with growing children are always happy to pass their quickly outgrown infant and toddler clothing on to another family.
Recycle and donate clothing
We can recycle our clothing. We are all aware and have probably donated clothing to Goodwill Industries with a dozen drop-off locations in our community. You can find the location of the nearest Goodwill drop-off by visiting their website
Big Brothers and Big Sisters Big Bend Mentoring program have 49 “Big Purple Bins” in Leon County which accept clothing, shoes, purses, bedding, and other household items that provide a revenue source for helping at-risk kids in our community and create new jobs. They even have an online signed donation receipt for those who itemize.
There is also at least one private school that recycles secondhand school uniforms for rock-bottom prices and some churches have clothing pantries where second-hand clothes are free for the asking.
There is a large growing market for secondhand clothing that some say has the potential to reshape the fashion industry and help mitigate the industry’s environmental impact. There are brick and mortar thrift stores and digital resale platforms, like Tradesy and Poshmark that facilitate peer-to-peer exchange of everyday clothing.
Tallahassee secondhand markets
In Tallahassee, there are close to 30 stores where you can sell and purchase secondhand clothing.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is a small market for secondhand luxury goods locally and a larger market digitally where people buy and sell designer labels. The market value of this sector reached $2 billion in 2019. High quality clothing according to experts retains its value over time, unlike cheaper, fast-fashion products.
Patagonia, the outdoor clothing retailer established WornWear, which accepts used Patagonia clothing that functions perfectly and is in good condition. When you trade-in your quality, well-loved Patagonia gear, they give credit toward purchases in Patagonia retail stores, on WornWear.com and Patagonia.com.
There are critics who argue that the secondhand marketplace encourages excess consumption because it provides access to cheaper clothing. No doubt this is true but buying secondhand clothing and recycling your clothing keeps them out of landfills and reduces the demand for new clothing with all its associated environmental impacts.
The final determination on whether the secondhand market makes fashion more sustainable is still out, but surely it is helping.
So, whatever, you do, don’t throw your discarded clothes in the garbage. Find a store, a digital platform, a family member, friend, charity, or a church to sell or donate them to.
Consider shopping for yourself at secondhand clothing stores. I have friends who make this a regular habit and brag on some of the fabulous deals they find.
Pam McVety is a member of Sustainable Tallahassee and can be reached at [email protected]. This is a “Greening Our Community” article, an initiative of Sustainable Tallahassee. Learn more at www.SustainableTallahassee.org.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Recycling is one step to keep clothing out of oceans, landfills