Clothing and other textile waste is the fastest-growing waste stream in the U.S. Why? One reason is what is called “fast fashion”, which refers to lower quality cheaper clothes sold in brick and mortar stores as well as online. A number of fast fashion retailers have been called out for throwing away brand-new and unsold clothes (by the millions!) to make room on their racks for the new, latest trends. Or rather than re-stocking returns, they get tossed because it was cheaper to do so.
However, public outcry has had an impact and some companies are revising their practices and putting into place more eco-friendly goals. The main reason for the shocking practices of destroying perfectly good items is of course, profit. It costs more to deal with unsold and returned items in earth friendly ways such as getting them to discount stores, recycling centers etc. And of course they don’t want their paying customers to think that they can get those same unsold items for cheaper or free later.
In 2018, the US generated nearly 13 million tons of new clothing and footwear waste, 9 million tons of which ended up in landfills. The rest was recycled or incinerated. Compare that to the 1.36 million tons of clothing and footwear waste in 1960. The US population nearly doubled over that period, but clothing waste increased nearly tenfold. (Earth Island Journal 8.3.22)
This wasteful practices is not just increasing the volume of waste in our landfills, but also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Producing textiles is very energy intensive - it takes a lot of water to produce and also adds to the contamination of our water from the dyes and chemicals used. Micro-plastics are increasing at an alarming rate in our oceans, waterways and even the air. Cheaper clothes are often made from manmade textiles, mostly polyester and acrylic, which then leach out every time they are washed. Your laundry and all our waste water eventually ends up in an ocean somewhere. Micro-plastics, that never fully degrade, they just continue to get smaller and smaller, are then ingested by the fish that we eat. Which means ultimately it ends up in us. It has been found in nursing mothers breast milk. Talk about full circle.
What can you do? Well, if it’s not profitable to do business as usual, retailers will change. Your pocket book is your biggest tool. And it is powerful indeed! Look into the practices and reports from your favorite apparel brands. Look at what the clothing is made of before you buy. Instead of returning an item that you don’t like or didn’t fit, consider gifting it to a thrift store or shelter, or selling it online through one of the many personal selling platforms like Poshmark.
Legislation is another way. Ultimately the best way to curb this, as well as all plastic waste, is by placing the responsibility of the products end of life on the manufacturer. Yes, clothes will be more expensive. Cheap is not actually cheaper in the long run, even as appealing as it is at the time to your pocket book. Ultimately the human species pays an even higher price through losses and harm to people and planet. Unless you like eating plastic and think it is good for your body, don’t base your choice solely on price.
Look for companies that share their practices with consumers, source sustainable and/or natural fibers, and are good to the environment and their employees (including their supply chain). Excellent if they are a Certified B-Corp, meaning they have been certified to be making good social and environmental decisions and practices.
This is a global issue and yet, you actually have a surprising level of impact and power. Remember this when you are looking to buy your next piece of clothing. Buying less, less often, and buying clothes that last longer, all help even on an individual level. And less for you to store in your drawers, closets and attic. And that is not insignificant!
I enjoy being of service. I'm taking my knowledge and intuition out into the world for those that are ready, willing and open to shift and change. It is my hope that through our interactions, we can further support the health and wellbeing of our communities and planet, as well as ourselves. I look forward to working with you!