Photo by Celestine Ngulube/Unsplash
“Fast fashion” is defined by three cardinal traits: it’s cheap, it’s trendy, and it’s expendable. It’s a tack that has served retailers well; disposability locks consumers, often unknowingly, in a pain spiral of buying, tossing, and buying again. Junk in, junk out. But where do polyester “crêpe de chine” peasant blouses go to die? If you live in the developed world, it might be the landfill. The average American tosses more than eight trash bags worth of clothing and accessories every year, according to Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles, an international trade association for companies that grade and sort post-consumer textiles for recycling. For the entire United States, that works out to 26 billion pounds of trashed textiles, or 310,000 truckloads’ worth. Considering that we can reuse or recycle about 90 percent of fabric products, that’s an unforgivable amount of wasted resources.
GIVE A SHIRT
The question of why this continues to happen, even in these more enlightened times, is one that led Savers, an international chain of for-profit thrift stores, to commission a survey about the “state of reuse” in North America.
Based on the responses of 3,097 adults from the United States and Canada, the study found that attitudes and behaviors on reuse, particularly for clothing and textiles, vary widely and wildly.
Of those who choose not to donate, one in three admitted that it was just more convenient to bin their castoffs.
The good news is the people who choose to donate their garments outnumber those who don’t by three to one, even if their initial impetus is more pragmatic than altruistic.
“Running out of closet space was the leading reason North Americans were prompted to donate, beating out donation drives or passing by a drop box, clothing bin, or donation truck as triggers to donate,” Savers said. “In fact, when it comes to donating used goods, having no place to stash belongings at home is more motivating than either having to move or experiencing a change in marital status.”
But people also give to feel good about themselves, and so others can find value in things they no longer want or desire. This is especially true with baby boomers. “So even though the initial trigger to donate might be around organizing an overloaded closet and a need for space, people ultimately donate goods to help others,” Savers said.
In fact, nearly half of respondents said they would donate more if they knew their donation would help nonprofits they support.
For the holdouts who choose not to donate, 54 percent said they didn’t think a donation center would accept their items. One in three admitted that it was just more convenient to bin their castoffs.
There are a multitude of benefits to extending the useful life of a garment, whether by donating it or purchasing secondhand. Abstaining from buying brand new even just some of the time can help reduce solid waste in landfills, pollution, and water and energy use.
Fashion is a dirty, thirsty business. Although a third of the planet doesn’t have access to clean water, about 2.4 trillion gallons of the stuff is used to dye fabrics every year.
Savers found that more than half of North Americans are more likely to reuse if they were aware of similar statistics. Not that there isn’t room for improvement.
“When reminded of the tremendous impact clothing has on the environment, three-quarters of baby boomer respondents would choose to wear a pre-owned outfit over wearing a brand new one that used thousands of gallons of water,” Savers said. “But one-third of respondents did not care about the environmental impact and chose to wear the brand new outfit.”
More promising, nearly everyone polled agreed that the concepts of reuse should be taught in schools to instill greener habits in the next generation.
“Ninety-four percent of respondents endorsed this idea,” Savers added.