Clothing is piling up in landfills at an alarming rate. The fast fashion industry, overproduction, and overconsumption of cheap disposable clothing are responsible for tons of textile waste, land, air, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created in 1969 to protect the environment and human health. It reports that 16.9 million tons of used textile wastes are generated each year in the United States. That amount has doubled over the last 20 years.
The average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing every year. Clothes are only worn for around a quarter of the global average in America, according to Euromonitor International.
Each year, the fashion industry extracts large amounts of natural resources and sends clothes to landfills. More than USD 500 billion is lost due to a lack of reuse and recycling each year, as reported by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2017).
People tend to throw away unwanted clothes in the trash. And the large majority of clothes that end up in landfills or incinerators could be reused or recycled. Keeping your clothing out of landfills is one of the most impactful ways to slow down climate change.
Fast fashion uses cheap synthetic materials that contain plastic, such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, and polyethylene. It takes thousands of years for many types of clothes to decompose. They release toxic gases, carbon dioxide, and methane into the atmosphere as they break down.
You can help solve this problem by discarding your used clothes responsibly. Don't throw old clothes in the trash! You can use textile recycling programs instead. Many brands and retailers now collect and recycle post-consumer textiles.
You can also reuse, repair, repurpose, sell, or donate unwanted clothes. Many charities and non-profit organizations accept clothing donations. It's very important to do the most you can as even simple steps are beneficial to the environment.
To slow down climate change, and plastic microfiber pollution, we have to consume clothing more mindfully. It not only protects the environment but also simplifies your life and saves you money.
It's never a good idea to throw away unwanted clothes in the trash. It's not a responsible or conscious way of living. Less than 1% of all textile waste is recycled into new clothes globally.
Luckily, the green movement is booming. Sustainable fashion is rising to become so much more than a trend. The number of resale shops and thrift stores is expected to double over the next five years.
Use the following methods to keep your clothing out of landfills.
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1. Repairing and caring for clothes
Whenever possible, repair and reuse your clothes instead of buying new ones.
I know it's fun to shop for new pieces for your wardrobe and at the same time getting rid of the clothes you never wear.
But taking better care of the clothes you already own has a huge impact on the environment.
Repair old clothes to a possible extent as much as you can. You can make your clothes last longer by washing in lower temperatures as well.
To build a sustainable fashion future, we have to change our behavior for the better. Taking better care of the clothes we have makes a huge difference.
2. Donating clothing
To prevent clothes from ending up in landfills, donate them locally.
It's an easy way to give your clothing a second life. Check for the many organizations in your area that accept clothing donations.
Many non-profit organizations raise money for charitable causes. For-profit companies sell your clothing contributions and may donate a portion of their profits.
You can also donate old clothing that’s in good condition to homeless and women's shelters, family service agencies, immigrant support groups, and churches.
Blankets, towels, and linens can go to animal shelters in your local area. Make sure to contact them first and ask if they take donations.
Donating your clothing to someone else that may need it more than you do is a great gesture.
Here are some amazing non-profit organizations and charities:
- Salvation Army
- Society of St. Vincent de Paul
- Planet Aid
- Dress for Success
- Vietnam Veterans of America
- Red Cross
- Cancer Research
- Marie Curie
Many charities also collect your unwanted clothes in a house-to-house visit:
3. Selling unwanted clothes
If your old clothes are still valuable, you can sell them to resale shops and thrift stores for extra cash. Local consignment shops are one good option.
Many apps and online marketplaces such as eBay, Poshmark, ThredUp, Tradesy, allow you to sell your used clothing easily on the internet.
Read up my ultimate guide on how to sell unwanted clothes for a list of the top places to earn money with the items you don't wear anymore.
Selling your unwanted clothes is very sustainable. You help upcycle clothes that would otherwise end up in landfills.
It's a great way to buy and sell second-hand, vintage, and designer clothing at a fraction of the retail price.
You can simply list the items yourself, take high-quality pictures, and have success. Earn extra cash while giving your clothing an extended life.
The second-hand clothing market is expanding rapidly. More and more people are buying vintage clothing and shopping in thrift stores. Buying used clothing is becoming cool again.
4. Upcycling into new clothes
Upcycling is cutting and sewing used garments and other textiles to create new clothes of higher value. It gives a new purpose to old items in your wardrobe by making something exceptional and unique.
It's an outstanding way to preserve the environment. Instead of throwing old clothes away, upcycle them to get something useful.
If you are new to upcycling, read up my article on upcycled clothing and see how it helps the fashion industry tremendously.
You can upcycle your clothing at home without extra machinery and save resources. You will give old textiles an extended life and keep them very valuable for a long time.
Extending the life of clothes and upcycling are very important steps to build a sustainable fashion future.
5. Repurposing pieces of clothing
Downcycling is the process of repurposing old items and create something of lesser value.
You can downcycle or shred old clothes and other textiles into materials for insulation, carpet padding, yarn, and other uses.
Used clothes can make great re-usable bags or cleaning rags. Give old items anew use and keep them out of landfills.
Fabrics made from blends of various materials don't recycle very well. An example of textiles difficult to recycle is athletic wear made from polyester or nylon blended with elastane.
Don't throw these types of clothes in thrash! Instead, reuse, repurpose, and upcycle.
6. Recycling old clothes
When your used clothes cannot be sold or donated, you can still keep them out of landfills by recycling them.
You can drop off your items at organizations that have direct relationships with textile recyclers:
You can also participate in textile recycling programs. Many towns, councils, cities, fashion brands, and retailers have programs in place to collect, recycle and upcycle clothing.
7. Buy wardrobe staples
One of the best ways to be more sustainable with clothes is to buy less overall.
As consumers, the more we reduce our consumption in the first place, the less damage we cause to the environment.
You can try to adopt a minimalist fashion style. It's great for your closet, your wallet, and the planet!
If you want to learn more about how to create a minimalist wardrobe, follow my ultimate guide on the minimalist fashion trend.
Buying only the essentials and staples of your wardrobe is a more minimalist approach to fashion. The goal is to keep things simple and going back to basics.
8. Buying better clothes
Buying higher-quality clothing is the way to go. Be more conscious about fashion, environmentally friendly, socially responsible, and save money at the same time.
Fill your wardrobe with a limited number of pieces that last longer to dress purposefully and with intention.
Only buy new clothes that make you feel more comfortable and confident. Make a shopping list in advance and prefer timeless versatile pieces.
Ultimately, you want to learn to recognize a quality garment when you see it. Don't purchase anything disposable. Preferably, look for eco-friendly materials.
If you aren't sure what kind of sustainable materials you should be looking for, take a look at my list of the top 10 eco-friendly fabrics for clothing.
Shopping responsibly and buying better are great solutions to keep your clothing out of landfills. It seems like a simple idea but it's very effective and makes such a huge difference.
9. Renting your clothing
You can also rent new clothes for special occasions. This practice has become very popular recently. Fashion designers and brands often work with renting services that let you wear their clothes for a monthly fee.
You will have access to unique pieces that you can swap frequently and reduce clothing waste at the same time.
Clothing rental is an emerging and fast-growing business model. Consumers see renting as a better option, especially during pregnancy or for parties.
Here are some incredible places to rent clothes for special occasions:
- Rent the Runway online service that provides designer dress and accessory rentals in the United States, from Mother of Pearl, Mara Hoffman, Jason Wu, Loeffler Randall, and more.
- My Wardrobe HQ, the UK’s first fashion rental marketplace, a leading destination for renting and buying contemporary and luxury womenswear fashion.
10. Swapping clothes with friends
Organizing a clothing swap with your friends and family is a very enjoyable experience. You can set up a pop-up store at your house and invite your friends over.
Clothes swapping is something you can organize with your friends this weekend. It's now a very popular practice. It's fun and preserve the environment at the same time.
Swap some clothes hanging in your closet with your friends and family to renew your wardrobe and keep your clothing out of landfills.
What is your most favorite way to reduce textile waste? Do you have any other tips I should add to this list?
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About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.