Many of us have come to appreciate “fast fashion” where clothes are made cheaply and thrown away quickly as trends change. You know the stores that sell them and probably felt the thinness of the fabric but decided that, considering the price, it was good enough.
What you didn’t realize is that with these great deals come serious human and environmental costs; and the environmental costs, which are less known, are far more serious than we think.
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Let’s cut to the chase: the fashion industry produces 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions. That’s more emissions than all international flights and shipping combined.
The fashion industry is the second largest consumer of water in the world. It takes about 700 gallons of water to produce a cotton shirt and 2,000 gallons for a pair of jeans. And textile dyeing is the second biggest water polluter in the world. The dyeing process uses enough water to fill 2 million Olympic swimming pools every year.
Landfills, oceans and chemicals
Additionally, 85% of all textiles go to landfill every year, and surprisingly, that equates to a garbage truck full of clothes being burned or dumped in a landfill every second. Landfills, including all fabric, are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Washing clothes releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean every year, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. Many of these fibers are polyester, a plastic found in about 60% of clothing.
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 providing nearly 50 % of the oxygen we breathe.
The production of clothing produces chemical waste, requires the use of pesticides and the cutting of forests, a major greenhouse gas sink. All of this contributes to climate change and other environmental problems.
Actions to reduce waste
For those of us who want to live more sustainably, there are steps we can take to reduce these impacts.
Obviously, we can buy fewer clothes every year and not let the fashion industry shame us into buying the latest fashions. It hasn’t been hard to do during the pandemic where sweatshirts are the fashion choice for many.
We can wear our clothes longer. A family friend in his 60s proudly brags about wearing decades-old clothes and shoes.
We can pass our clothes on to a friend or family member. Remember growing up, getting clothes from an older brother or neighbor? It was like Christmas. There are also many weekend garage sales which are particularly good for baby and children’s clothing.
Mothers with growing children are always happy to pass on their quickly outgrown baby and toddler clothes to another family.
Recycle and donate clothes
We can recycle our clothes. 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 depot by visiting their website
The Big Brothers and Big Sisters Big Bend Mentoring Program has 49 “Big Purple Bins” in Leon County that accept clothing, shoes, purses, bedding, and other household items that provide a source of income to help at-risk children in our community and create new work. They even have a signed donation receipt online for those detailing.
There is also at least one private school that recycles second-hand school uniforms at rock-bottom prices, and some churches have food pantries where second-hand clothes are free on request.
There is a large and growing market for second-hand clothing which some say has the potential to reshape the fashion industry and help lessen the environmental impact of the industry. There are physical thrift stores and digital resale platforms, like Tradesy and Poshmark, that facilitate peer-to-peer exchange of everyday clothes.
Tallahassee Thrift Markets
In Tallahassee, there are nearly 30 stores where you can sell and buy second-hand clothes.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is a small local market for second-hand luxury goods and a larger digital market where people buy and sell designer brands. The market value of this sector reached $2 billion in 2019. According to experts, high-quality clothing retains its value over time, unlike fast fashion and cheaper products.
Patagonia, the outdoor apparel retailer, created WornWear, which accepts used Patagonia apparel that works perfectly and is in good condition. When you trade in your quality, beloved Patagonia gear, they give credit for purchases at Patagonia retail stores, WornWear.com, and Patagonia.com.
There are critics who argue that the second-hand market encourages excessive consumption because it provides access to cheaper clothes. This is undoubtedly true, but buying used clothes and recycling your clothes keeps them out of landfills and reduces the demand for new clothes with all the associated environmental impacts.
The final decision on whether the second-hand market makes fashion more sustainable is not yet known, but it surely helps.
So whatever you do, don’t throw your discarded clothes in the trash. Find a store, digital platform, family member, friend, charity or church to sell or donate.
Consider shopping for yourself at second-hand clothing stores. I have friends who make it a regular habit and brag about 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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