A very big contributor to our global, heaping, landfill crisis is clothing. Usually cheap, fast fashion, clothing that has been worn less than 7 times and is now considered garbage by the purchaser. So the best thing to do with your unloved clothing once you no longer want or need that items is to donate it. Right? Well, not really.
There are many reasons we donate or dispose of our clothing. Some of these reasons include:
- They may no longer fit but are still in good condition.
- We no longer like the style.
- We have too many clothes.
- Made a buying mistake.
- We want to buy some new things, but have a one in one out rule.
- Our kids have outgrown the clothes.
- The item is in need of repair (needs a new zipper, button needs to be sewn, or hole needs to be stitched up) but we don’t have the skills to do it ourselves or don’t want to pay to get it repaired.
- The item has been well worn and is no longer wearable, not sure how to dispose of it, so it gets donated or thrown in the trash.
I’m pretty sure I could check all those boxes as having been my reason for getting rid of a garment. Donating our unwanted garments can sometimes be a romanticized notion. That poly/cotton sweater you bought, wore a couple of times, but you don’t really like it all that much, can be donated. That donated sweater will be picked up for only a few dollars or given to a mom in need who needs that sweater to help keep her warm through the winter on her bus ride to work. Sounds like a lovely gesture. The reality is something quite different. That sweater of yours gets dropped off at the donation location of your choice. That item will be assessed and if seen as resealable and in fair enough condition will be tagged, hung, and put into a vast inventory of other poly/cotton blend sweaters. That sweater will be given a short time period to be sold. It is estimated that only about 10% of donated items are sold, while the remaining items are packed up and shipped off to Global South communities. (That sweater will not be wanted there either.) So that sweater you now innocently donated with the hopes of someone else getting to wear it, will now, most likely, end up in a landfill in another country. We share a planet, so shipping our unwanted textiles to another country is still our problem.
So what do we do about all these clothes we no longer want? There are many steps we can all take to reduce our textile waste. These include:
- SLOW DOWN OUR BUYING PRACTICES!!! This has to be one of the biggest things we can all do. We don’t need an entire new wardrobe every season. I used to buy soooo many new pieces each and every season in order to keep up with trends. See my previous post on trends here to read how we can be sustainable and mindful when it comes to trend shopping.
- Ask yourself why you’re getting rid of something. Is it the fit? The size? Do you not like it? Does it need repair? Does it need an alteration or tailoring? If it’s perfectly fine and you just want something new, perhaps think about keeping that item, but packing it away for a year. It might be all shiny and new looking to you a year from now.
- Is this a garment you could resell? I list my no longer serving me items over on Poshmark. It can take a while to sell pieces, but that is all a part of slow fashion. I have also done closet sales on my Instagram page and often give clothes to friends and family who want them. Finding a garment a new home yourself is always best practice.
- When you do buy something, look for those natural fabrics first. Try to avoid synthetics. I buy natural fabrics for my new items I purchase (sometimes with some lycra in there), and then occasionally will purchase some synthetics secondhand. I prefer the feel of natural fabrics anyway, so they are where I lean to. Natural fabrics will actually breakdown back into the Earth, while synthetics, like polyester, will be here for hundreds of years.
- Is there a local consignment shop who could sell this item for you? I have sold many pieces through consignment before. A quick Google search will help you find what’s closest to you. For kids clothing, I highly recommend Once Upon A Child. They have locations in Canada and the US. This is also a great place to shop for secondhand clothes for your kids.
- Do you have a friend or friends who would be into doing a clothing swap? I did one with a friend quite a few years ago and it was great! We were pretty much the exact same size and were able to trade out some great condition items with each other and freshen up our own wardrobes. I also hand down kids clothes to friends and we have friends who hand down clothes to us.
- Could the garment be dyed? I have a favourite white cotton top that I love to wear in the Spring/Summer but it has some stains and is looking a bit dingy. My plan is to dye it a new hue this Spring and keep on wearing it.
After all of this, once I have exhausted all other options, I will donate items in good condition. If there are some items that won’t work being relocated by any of these means (ie: bras/underwear that is old and falling apart, badly stained items, clothing that is threadbare) what do you do with them? I will be the first to say, that I have found these items to be the most difficult. No one wants this stuff. I have absolutely put items like this in the garbage before. Now, I have a bag with textile waste items. (pictured above) Items beyond repair that no one else is going to want, (Including the thrift shops, so don’t donate them.), I will take to one of the many textile Return-It locations. This is something being offered in my province of British Columbia. I’m sure there are similar programs in other Provinces or States. Give it a search.
UPDATE: STARTING FROM JUNE 30, 2022, The Return-It Textiles Collection and Recycling Program will be discontinued. I am so incredibly frustrated with this recent announcement. I am working on finding alternative programs. Stay tuned.
I will also say, that if you don’t have a textile recycling program like this in your community, you are better off to throw out your beyond repair items in your own landfill. Donating a garment that can no longer be worn becomes really expensive garbage. It’s better we take care of our own trash, rather than shipping it to another country. There is no such thing as away. If there is a way to reuse these textiles in your own home (dust clothes, rags, painting clothes, makeup wipes, or other DIY items), this would be best practice before chucking it out.
A few years back I had taken some of my textile waste items to H&M, as they had rolled out a fabric recycling program. After educating myself on their practices, I now see it is nothing more than a greenwashing campaign. They advertise customers can come in with a bag of clothing and drop off for recycling. In return, the customer is give a discount coupon to put towards more clothes. Fast Fashion brands like H&M are a whole topic, and deserve a bigger deep dive in conversation. So, for now, let’s do a quick, simple, breakdown of why this is greenwashing and not them being dedicated to helping the planet.
To define greenwashing: “… is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the sustainable benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. Greenwashing can make a company appear to be more socially and environmentally friendly than it really is.”
So what makes the H&M recycling program greenwashing? Here are 3 quick reasons:
- H&M produces 3 billion garments per year. This amounts to $22 billion in revenue including $4.1 billion of unsold clothes as recently as 2019. (according to SurfaceMag.com). Any brand that is overproducing that many garments can NOT be sustainable.
- The machine they have that turns old garments into something new, is greenwashing too. According to Medium.com , only 0.01% of what is donated is actually woven into new material and it can only process virgin materials. This means no synthetic blends. It’s been estimated that now more than 60% of clothing produced is made of synthetics. They are manufacturing clothing that can’t be recycled and even if it can, no where near the scale needed to keep up with what they produce. They currently one have only one of these machines worldwide. Since they don’t have the capacity to actually manage the type of fabric and volume of clothing being donated, they are simply dumping the excess into landfill, all while encouraging you to buy more.
- H&M recently stated that their company objective is to double their sales by 2030. Doubling their sales, means more product production. Again, brands looking to scale up are not sustainable. Degrowth is what is needed for the survival of our planet.
We all need to think about a garments end of life. Once you acquire a piece of clothing, whether it’s a fast fashion item, a sustainable brand item, a secondhand find, a gift, or something vintage, we are taking on the responsibility of extending the life of that garment as well as making the most responsible choice of what to do with that garment, when it no longer serves us. The next time, before you buy something, ask yourself, “Am I willing to care of this garment and find a sustainable solution for it when I no longer need/want it?” This is something I have been really working on after making some secondhand buying mistakes over the winter. I am now working on finding new homes for the items I really should not have bought in the first place.
For any of you looking to sign up to see on Poshmark, you can use my code JENPISTOR and save $15 when you sign up.