Steps to End Clothing and Textile Waste

Hi, my friends call me Chris and I am their quintessential “crunchy” friend and today, on Earth Day, I am going to be yours too.

Our family’s “going green” journey took root 10+ years ago, right around the time we were trying to get pregnant. It was like the idea of ​​creating life suddenly brought the deteriorating state of the environment into horrific, glaring focus.

When people talk about the environment, there are definitely some common topics. Plastic pollution is a crowd favorite. I read recently they’re finding microplastics in people’s blood now. Carbon emissions are the current golden child of almost every environmental discussion. Reduce, reuse, recycle is old news and actually dates back to the very first Earth Day in 1970.

We’ve learned a lot on our going green journey. we’ve made a lot of change. Still, there’s one major player in the waste world, and it’s not talked about often, but it’s a big problem.

It’s clothing.

Clothing & Textile Waste

In 2017 we were running a Hurricane Harvey relief distribution center and I got to see clothing waste, firsthand. Clothing donations became a 4 letter word among those of us running the center. The corps of fashion gone by laid in 8-10 mountains, 10 feet high each, in the middle of our donation center. It took a 5 ton truck and an empty school bus to haul it all off to another non-profit who could handle the sheer magnitude of clothing donations.

5 ton truck filled with textile wasteHere’s the thing, the solution to clothing waste isn’t just about donating what you don’t want. It’s about consuming less. Most of us donate clothing, but when we need clothing, secondhand is not even a consideration.

Here’s some statistics to get your mind going:

In short, our new clothing consumption is a huge problem.

Those piles of clothing at the donation center haunted me. Nearly our entire wardrobe at that time was used and donated to us, as we’d lost everything earlier that year to a house fire. Once our house was rebuilt, I made a personal decision to start buying more of my family’s used clothing.

infographic about clothing wasteGetting Over the Idea of ​​Buying Used

Buying one used item reduces its carbon, waste, and water footprints by 82%. Which begs the question, why aren’t more people buying used textiles?

I was at an event recently and mentioned how I’d picked up the Puma Speedcat shoes I was wearing for about $7 at a thrift store. The response from the person I was chatting with was, “I’m thrifty, but I would never put my feet in someone else’s gross used shoes.” There’s a stigma attached to used clothing, that it is only for the needy, and it’s gross. We need to get over this.

collage of 3 pars of thrifted shoesIf you’ve ever slipped in a hotel bed or used a hotel towel, you’ve gratefully and without question, used second-hand textiles. Actually, you paid someone money to use their used textiles. If you can go to a hotel, you can wear second-hand clothing.

If you’re the person sitting there saying, “I just don’t want to dig through racks of clothes”, I’m here to say, times have changed. There is an incredible and growing movement towards the circular closet, which means many more resources to buy used.

So Many Ways to Buy Used

Thrift vs Consignment

If you like to shop in a store, in real life, thrift or consignment might be for you, but there is a difference.

Thrift stores tend to take all levels of quality of clothing because their inventory is donation-based. You’re going to find the best deals at thrift stores, but you’ll also have to do a lot more digging to find them. Personally, I love a good thrift store, it’s all about the hunt for me, what I will find, what deals I will get. I have some favorites and tips on thrift store shopping, but that’s for another post.

woman looking at clothing in a thrift storeConsignment stores buy used clothing from the public for cash or store credit. They tend to be a little more picky about what they accept which means a lot less hunting for you, but it does come at a slightly higher price tag. Consignment shops are often more organized than thrift stores and more merchandised, which can make them feel more like shopping at a retail store.

Modern Thrifting Online With thredUP

thredUP is one of my favorite online resale consignment shops. Say there is a pair of jeans you really love and they have bit the dust {more on what to do with them later}. You can log onto threadUP and search for a used pair of those exact jeans and replace them. It’s magic.

black dog sniffing a thredUP boxThey have reinvented thrifting to feel more like typical online retail shopping. You can search by brand, size, color, style and more. threadUP is my go-to when I am looking for very specific items: a jean jacket, those linen pants I love from Old Navy, a larger size of that girls avocado dress from Target that my daughter loved so much but grew out of.

They are also working within the movement to challenge brands to be more sustainable. In 2018, when Burberry admitted to burning excess inventory, threadUP challenged them to do better. They’re also helping brands create their own resale programs.

Online Resale Marketplaces

Since the inception of eBay and Craigslist, consumer based resale marketplaces are everywhere. Depop, Poshmark, Mercari, and even Facebook Marketplace all fall in this category. These sites all have individual sellers listing their resale items. Typically sellers want good reviews so you can grab some really great pieces here too.

Brands Selling Used

There are more and more brands starting to sell “preloved”, “preowned”, or “resale”. We always check REI used for our outdoors gear before shopping retail. Madewell and Patagonia have also joined the resale movement.

How to Recycle Textiles

Donations: Get a Tax Deduction

Direct donations to thrift stores are tried and true and an easy way to off load clothes that will be sure to see new life. Clothing donation boxes exist ALL over the city. Companies like Phill the Box use clothing donations as a fundraiser for schools and other organizations.

Consignment: Make a Little Money

If you’re looking to make a little money, consignment shops are where it’s at. Bring in your gently used clothing, they choose what they want to keep, and then offer you cash or store credit.

Buffalo Exchange and Style Encore are two local consignment shops for adults. Kid to Kid and Once Upon a Child are great local consignment shops for kids clothing.

There’s also online consignment. You can sell your own goods through the resale marketplaces listed above. Another option is what thredUP calls a Clean Out Kit. You fill a bag, ship it in, they go through it and list your items, and when your items sell you get a pay out.

Jeans, Still Wearable or Not, Still Have Life

Cotton’s Blue Jeans Go Green™ program takes used jeans and turns them into housing insulation for communities in need. Yes ladies, they will also take those loved jeans that have the classic thigh holes and turn them into something new! They’ve recycled over 3,900,000 pairs of jeans. Best yet, they’ve partnered with many local retailers who serve as drop off locations including Madewell, Ariat and Levi’s. Many of these retailers offer coupons for new jeans in trade for your old jeans.

Clothes Past Their Prime

Clothes that have holes, stains, or are unwearable still have life. locally, ReUse Textile Recycling Services offers clothing pickup and drop off locations. They sort clothing into reusable or recyclable. Reusable clothing gets sold to third world communities which helps provide affordable clothing. Recyclable textiles are recycled into other forms of material or fiber for other uses such as insulation or furniture stuffing. They also partner with local non-profits and donate a portion of their profits back into our community.

Committing to Buying Used

It takes a while to retrain your brain. It’s natural to go to a store when you need a new pair of jeans, or pop online for a quick new outfit fix. It took me some time too. Once you get the hang of it, it’s so good for the earth and for your wallet too. There’s also something sneakily special when you’re at a fancy gala and you have the big secret inside you that your while ensemble, gown and vintage faux fur, were all thrifted for about $30.

woman standing in thrifted outfit with labels where each item came from

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