Company pressMay 10, 2017
Fashion Pollution: How to Minimize It and What You Need to Know
“Buy less and buy better.”
Real talk: The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries on Earth. The yearly production of more than 80 billion garments consumes a massive amount of natural resources (it takes 2,700 liters, or approximately 700 gallons, of water to make one t-shirt) and contributes significantly to emission of harmful greenhouse gases. And, in the age of fast fashion, companies are churning out — and consumers are buying — clothes at an ever-increasing rate. According to Greenpeace, clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2014, and it’s expected to rise even more in the coming years.
But people don’t just buy more clothes at a faster rate; they also dispose of them like never before. Greenpeace also reports that the average person buys 60% more clothes and keeps them for half as long as they did 15 years ago. It’s all part of a vicious environmentally un-friendly cycle. “More and of our fashion is made so cheaply that it’s meant to be worn a few times then tossed, so then we have to buy more toxic and polluting fashion,” Alden Wicker, a journalist covering sustainable fashion and the founder of EcoCult, tells Teen Vogue.
Not only that, but the disposing of clothes is an issue in and of itself. According to thredUP’s annual Resale Report, the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing each year, sending mass amounts of garments to landfills or incinerators — and contributing to the emission of hazardous chemicals and greenhouse gases. “There are billions of pounds of clothing, shoes and textile-related accessories going into our landfills every year and that amount of waste is rising,” Jennifer Gilbert, Chief Marketing Officer of I:Collect, tells Teen Vogue. “As these items sit and decay, they cause harm to our environment such as causing greenhouse gasses.” It’s pretty bleak, but there are signs of hope. Glasgow Caledonian University New York’s Fair Fashion Center, which strives to take the fashion industry in a more sustainable direction, lists more than 30 organizations addressing fashion recycling and issues. And, Gilbert notes, currently 2 million tons of textiles are recycled every year in the U.S., the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the roads. Now, we have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to make those numbers even higher. Here are some ways we can do it.
Donate and re-sell the items you don’t want.
According to Greenpeace, it’s estimated that 95% of clothes thrown out with domestic waste could be re-worn, reused, or recycled instead. And these days, there are plenty of outlets for your used an unwanted clothes that are not the trash bin. You can go the resale route, selling your goods directly to other consumers (through sites like Tradesy or Poshmark) or to consignment shops, both locally and online (through sites like The RealReal and thredUP). “In 2016 alone, thredUP customers collectively saved 128M pounds of CO2 emissions and 10B gallons of water,” Samathan Jacob, thredUP spokeswoman, tells Teen Vogue. “This is equal to the CO2 output from the yearly electricity use of over 8,000 households, or equivalent to the amount of water in almost 6,000 Olympic-size swimming pools, respectively.”
Or, you can go the donation route. Send your clothes to a site like Savers or Schoola, bring them to a local non-profit that re-sells to community members, or participate in a recycling program like Westfield’s “Refashion the Future” initiative the launched on Earth Day in partnership with I:CO and retailers like Nordstrom, H&M, and more. The program, which includes participating Westfield shopping centers on the east and west coasts, encourages people to drop off unwanted clothes in exchange for rewards cards that can be used at various participating stores. I:CO will then collect, sort, and determine the best path for the discarded items, whether it be reuse, recycle, or upcycle.
Whether you want to donate or re-sell your clothes, Gilbert notes, “It’s important to select a reputable location that believes in finding an item’s next best use, like I:CO’s participating retail partners Westfield [and] H&M” are great outlets for donations. On the resale front, thredUP takes a similar approach. “Clothing that doesn’t meet our quality standards isn’t just thrown away,” Jacob says. “These items get sent to third party sellers or our textile recycling partners and ‘upcycled’ so that nothing goes to waste. […] Additionally, sellers can opt to donate the proceeds from their sold items to the charity of their choice to do even more good.”
Swap clothes with your friends and shop secondhand.
Recycling garments is definitely better than throwing them out, but you’ll minimize your environmental impact even more by simply giving them a new home. “Many people believe that reuse and recycling are synonymous and are of equal value to the environment, but this is actually a misconception,” Tony Shumpert, VP of Recycling and Reuse at Savers, tells Teen Vogue. “It’s true that recycling makes a positive impact, but what people tend to overlook is that recycling also requires resources such as water and energy to recombine the ingredients into something new.”
One of the easiest ways to extend the life of your clothing is to offer it up to a friend. After all, clothes that are old news to you because you’ve worn them too many times could be new and exciting to your friend, who’s craving a closet refresh. Plan a girls’ night where each of you brings the pieces you’re not feeling anymore, and swap away.
And when you’re feeling the need for some retail therapy, hit up second-hand stores first.
Invest in quality and buy less.
While donating, reselling, and recycling is nice, the fact of the matter is there’s already an excess of clothes in the secondhand system, and so many garments of too poor a quality to resell, that Greenpeace reports, the system “is on the brink of collapse.” And while low-quality garments can be “downcycled” into things like rags or even building insulation, those pieces will ultimately go into landfills. Look out for up-and-coming brands including the new brand VYB Swim under the eco-friendly brand RAJ Swim that have a strong mission to reduce landfill waste and help save the environment. “The most important thing is what you do when you buy,” Wicker says. “Buy less and buy better, so you’re putting less into the secondhand system.”