How to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Our Clothes

Spring is here and many of us find the urge to get rid of old stuff. Old textiles like clothing are common purge items this time of year. How we dispose of them is really important to our planet.

With 85% of textiles, including clothes, ending up in landfills it’s not only important how we get rid of them but equally important how we buy them. How we buy clothes and dispose of them has a significant impact on the environment.

There are a lot of wasted materials we could make use of

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Let’s Look Differently at Clothes and How We Buy Them

Try these tips to reduce your impact on the planet from the clothes you wear.

  • Buy what you’ll wear. 
    • Before you spend your money ask yourself, “Do I like this enough I’m going to wear it for a while?” Do this with anything you buy. It will help reduce waste. Or, consider shopping used first. Here’s a link to find a thrift store near you.
  • Buy durable clothes that last. Look up reviews before you buy a certain brand so you know what you’re getting and how long it will last. 
  • Avoid fast fashion that is not made to last.
  • Wash clothes less, especially synthetic materials like polyesters. These mostly come from plastics. When washed these fabrics break down and leach microplastics into our water system. You don’t need to wash a garment every time you wear it. If it doesn’t stink or have stains, why wash it?
  • Buy from brands that have recycling programs and will take back their products to repurpose or recycle them when you’re done with them (see the list below).
  • Shop for clothes made with recycled materials (see the list below)

A number of clothing manufacturers are taking environmental responsibility for their products. Some offer take-back programs and recapture garments to refurbish them for resale or recycle the materials to make new apparel. 

Two things to look for when researching a clothing brand are:

  1. Do they take back their products to recondition or recycle the materials?
  2. Do they use recycled content for making new apparel?

Shop These Brands That Are Doing Their Part to Make Our Clothes Sustainable

Here are some brands that are doing their part to support an environmentally friendly circular economy:

  • BATOKO – this UK company makes recycled plastic swimwear
  • Eileen Fisher – offers a Renew program selling their gently used apparel and they take back their products when you’re done wearing them.
  • KOTN – makes sustainable apparel from certified organic cotton
  • Levi’s – offers a Second Hand online store where you can get vintage jeans and trucker jackets
  • pact – making sustainable organic apparel. Offers a recycling program for any old clothes
  • Patagonia – check out their Worn Wear page. They offer a trade-in program and use recycled materials to make their apparel.
  • Rapanui Clothing – makes circular organic apparel that they take back, take apart, and reuse the materials to make new garments.
  • Reef and Ledge – outdoor apparel made from recycled and sustainable materials
  • Wolven – makes their apparel using recycled plastic bottles

Use the internet to research how sustainable a brand is or search for lists of responsible apparel companies. Like this one from Going Zero Waste that gives us 50 Ethical and Sustainable Clothing Brands.

Find Sustainably Certified Clothing

Here are a few organizations that certify manufacturers for sustainability. Search by brand name to see how your favorite clothing makers stack up.

This article from Sustainable Brands is a guide to sustainable shopping for the 2021 Holiday season but continues to be a great resource. Bookmark it for future reference.“WALKING THE TALK – Conscientious Consumption: The SB 2021 Holiday Gift Guide

Avoid Fast Fashion

I’m cheap. I’ve always wanted to find the best deal. When I realized the true cost of buying cheap clothes I started buying used and never looked back. I’m not going to say I don’t buy new – the dress for my daughter’s wedding was new – but it is rare.

The apparel industry contributes
10% of global emissions and growing

Bright Colored Clothes Can Be Bad for The Planet

It’s hard to think that the color of the new outfit you pick makes a difference to our environment, but it does. For years the dye used to recolor materials has been contaminating our planet when the dye water is disposed of, then again when the clothes end up in a landfill and those chemicals seep into the earth. 

Buying from companies certified as sustainable means their operations are monitored to ensure they are using only environmentally friendly dyes and chemicals to treat materials.

How and Where We Shop Makes a Huge Difference

I’ve mentioned thrift store shopping before, maybe because I’m obsessed with the thought of the really cool deals I’ve found, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this resource in a post about clothing. Some of the ways shopping at thrift stores help the environment may not be real obvious.

Shop IRL

Shopping local thrift stores In Real Life not only supports a circular economy, but it also:

  • Reduces your impact by eliminating emissions due to shipping, and
  • It supports your local economy and community since most thrift stores are run by charitable organizations.

When shopping for used goods in-person is not an option, there are online thrift stores available.

Check Out These Online Thrift Stores

You’ll probably get tired of hearing me say “shop used,” but it’s one of the best solutions to reducing the environmental impact of the apparel industry. 

Here are a few online thrift stores and consignment shops where you can shop or sell good condition name brand items you have and don’t want anymore.

  • Poshmark – a marketplace to sell and buy fashion, home decor, and more.
  • threadUP – consignment and thrift store.
  • Vestiaire Collective – buy and sell designer second-hand fashion.

Check out 10 Places to Shop Secondhand Online, or 50 Ethical and Sustainable Clothing Brands, from Going Zero Waste.

If we stop buying new and start using what we have by buying used and recycled clothes, we will not only reduce emissions but also landfill waste and toxins going into the planet. A lot of clothing is made from polyester, nylon, and other synthetics, which are made from plastics and fossil fuels.

Despair of Clothing Donation and Disposal

It’s frustrating to watch videos showing piles of clothing dumped on villages in underdeveloped countries, the people scurrying to pick out anything they can sell to support their families. I hate seeing this because I donate all my wearable used clothes. But not all donated clothes end up being resold. The ones that aren’t being shipped overseas, are burned, or end up in landfills.

Only donate good condition clothes

If the clothes you’re tossing aren’t in good condition they will not likely hit a resale shop or help the charity where you donated them. Don’t despair if they seem too worn for resale, there may be an organization in your community that will pass them on to people in need. Look online to see if that’s an option in your area.

You may be able to find other uses if the material is too worn.

Ways to Reuse Old Clothes You Can’t Donate

There are a number of ways you can reuse the material from old clothes. 

Crafts and other uses for textiles 

If you enjoy sewing, cut up worn clothes and save good sections for patching jeans, making doll clothes, chew toys for pets, or making a quilt. Look up crafts you can do with used materials.

Recover furniture that has worn or torn materials. Even hiring this done can be cheaper than buying new. It’s definitely better for the planet.

Cleaning rags and napkins

Old t-shirts make great rags, especially cotton. I keep a rag bag and when I can’t donate an old t-shirt or any other garment, I cut it up and toss it in my rag bag. Use these instead of paper towels to clean or wipe up messes, then toss them in the wash. Use nice pieces of material to make your own napkins, just cut an even square and hem the edges. Voila!

Why It’s Important

Buying clothes made with recycled materials will support a transition to a circular economy, which will reduce our demand on the planet and end the one-way street that sends our used materials to landfills.

The apparel industry:

The Benefits of Changing How You Buy Clothes
  • Save money
  • Provide jobs in your community
  • Prevent the materials from ending up in landfills and oceans
  • Keep microplastics out of our food and water supply – synthetic materials largely used to make apparel and household textiles (towels, sheets, etc.) are made from plastics and fossil fuels. When they end up in landfills or the ocean they break down into small microparticles in our food and water supply. This is why they are now finding microplastics in human organs.

If we take this seriously – rethink the way we shop and consume; and support government and businesses to immediately change policies and how goods are made – we may have a chance of reversing temperatures that will make the earth uninhabitable. We may be able to keep our climate at or below 1.5° celsius.

Ways You Can Make A Difference This Year

Check out these 52 ways to celebrate our earth and make a difference from Earth

Do something fun this spring, sign-up for a  Clean-Up Event. They’re not just for Earth Day! Check the map and search by the dates you have available. Then save the link and look for ongoing ways to help clean up your community. You may find a local organization you want to join and support.

With Much Gratitude

That’s it for this week. If you like this post, please forward it to every earth-friendly human you know. 

Drop me a line anytime if you have questions or comments. I love hearing from you.

I do not get paid to write this blog, none of the products I recommend sponsor me, so any support you can send my way would help, even a few bucks.

Thank you for reading these tips and subscribing. Pat yourself on the back for doing your part. Remember, every little bit helps. 

You got this!


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