Thousands of pounds of garbage is disposed of every year, clogging up landfills and ultimately hurting our environment. There’s one thing hurting the environment more than people may know; which we can all address: fashion.
Many Americans give clothes to organizations that help those who need it and throw out clothes that are too old, worn-out or in bad condition. Yet only 15 percent of textiles are reused and tons of clothes end up in the garbage.
Textiles include shoes, carpeting and stuffed animals, but clothes make up a major portion of the 15% mentioned. The more we waste, the more we buy and this constant production of textiles hurts the environment, so the more we can reuse and recycle the more we can help the environment.
“The EPA estimates that what we do donate each year, that 15%, is like taking over a million cars off the road,” said Bret Jaspers, from the WSKG station in Binghamton, N.Y. who reported that just tossing your clothes in the trash is not the best way to dispose of old clothes. About 5 to 10 percent of landfills’ makeup is textiles, according to Greg Ernst, who runs the Cortland County Landfill in upstate New York.
Only 0.1 percent of all clothing collected by charities and take-back programs is recycled, according to the clothing company H&M’s development sustainability manager, Henrik Lampa. H&M has begun to make sustainability in fashion a priority in their company by starting the Conscious Collection, which are sustainable clothes. The company has been encouraging its consumers to pack up old clothes from any brand and bring them to H&M bins worldwide.
Some fast facts about the impact old clothing in landfills and how they impact global warming are in the illustration below.
While this is a great effort from a popular and trusted company, this initiative is not enough. Americans alone throw away 85 percent of their clothes that they do not want. But almost everything can be reused or made into something else instead of taking up space at landfills and cluttering up Mother Nature.
Besides the space they take up, throwing away old clothes has a bigger impact on the environment than you may think. The clothes you throw away that end up in landfills start to decompose and release toxic air pollutants, including the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane. Jon Powell, a doctoral student in chemical and environmental engineering at Yale University, explained that there are about 1,200 municipal solid waste landfills, and about 900 of them have vacuum systems that collect landfill gas to produce electricity or to burn.
Yet most of the landfill gas is let go into the atmosphere, making landfills the third largest source of methane emissions. Powell explains that methane emission are more than 28 times efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, in turn massively contributing to global warming. Even though people do not see it, their old clothes can be seriously impacting the global warming problem.
Recycling clothes helps reduce greenhouse gases and also gives landfills more space, with potentially 100 million fewer pounds of waste (old clothes and textiles) taking up space in landfills.
Besides Mother Nature, who else may benefit from recycled clothes?
Those in Need
Clothes donated to well-known organizations who help those who need clothes often provide more than a good shirt or business suit. Goodwill uses 82 percent of its revenues to help disabled people with training for employment. A good portion of the Salvation Army’s revenues goes to local homeless shelters, rehabilitation centers and family emergency services.
Natural Disaster Victims
Donations also help those who have been affected by natural disasters. Through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), clothing donations are given to victims by organizations like the Salvation Army that help distribute your old clothes to disaster survivors.
“We gather donations, resources, and volunteers in a predetermined staging area so we're ready to help as soon as the federal, state, or local government declares the area safe to enter,” according to the Salvation Army’s website, in regards to disaster victims.
Those With Disease
Donating clothes helps those with disease. The National Kidney Foundation accepts donations and the donations go to fundraising for the foundation to help fight kidney disease by planning early screening and education programs.
Your Own House
Donating old clothes makes more space in your closet, drawers and helps you stay more organized.
Donating old clothes is a great way to help prevent the global warming epidemic that so many are trying to stop. There are many organizations that one can consider to find out where and how to donate. Goodwill stores, for instance, will gladly accept donations. They have prevented from over 75.7 million pounds of clothing and textiles from resting in landfills, not to mention the 11,653,240 pounds of material recycled by the company itself.
The Salvation Army is another organization that has committed to taking donations and consequently has helped the environment. They have taken a pledge, outlining 6 points the company has made in regards to sustainability and environmental aid, which can be found here. The Salvation Army pledges to help all living life forms, not just humans, live a sustainable life and look into the future to foresee how what we do today impacts our tomorrow.
People also recycle old clothes for homemade projects that can brighten up their house. An old tee shirt can be made into produce bags found here, an old sweater can be made into a fashionable pillow with the tutorial here, and a bunch of old tee shirts can be reborn into a fashionable, colorful rag-rug with the how-to shown on the side.
Emma Watson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Olivia Wilde are just some of the celebrities that are starting eco-friendly fashion lines to help live a fashionable and sustainable life. Emma Watson, a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, launched her Feel Good style site, encouraging women to embrace natural beauty and promote eco-friendly fashion. In 2011, Watson was quoted saying, “I will work for anyone for free if they’re prepared to make their clothing fair trade and organic. It’s really hard to get people interested.”
Gwyneth Paltrow has teamed up with Amour Vert to create Goop, her eco-friendly fashion line that’s composed of organic fabrics, silk dyed and printed with low-impact dyes. Every time a tee-shirt is purchased from Goop, the company ensures that a tree be planted in the Tahoe National Forest, promoting sustainable practices.
Olivia Wilde teamed up with H&M to help support their sustainable fashion line. As a co-founder of the online marketplace Conscious Commerce, Wilde hopes to show that ethical fashion, or fashion that is both sustainable and gives employees fair-wages, is not, “a fashion fantasy but an attainable reality.”
Wilde makes an excellent point. Sustainable and ethical fashion is not a fantasy, but something that is slowly making its way up the fashion-chain and into everyday lives. Reusing old clothes and living a more sustainable life is attainable for almost anyone. Recycling old clothes does not cost money, does not fill up landfills and helps those who need clothes on their backs. This is a trend that will not go out of style any time soon.
Mary Waller, a senior at Ramapo College, is studying for her BA in Communication Arts: Journalism with a minor in Political Science. After graduation in the Fall 2018, she hopes to work in broadcast journalism or public relations.