Clothing and Waste

As you might already know, we are shopping our way to extinction. Fast fashion is a cheap and cheerful form of instant gratification that has rewired our brains to wanting everything, right now. However, our desire to constantly update our wardrobe is just part of the problem. It’s not only the production of textile that contributes to sustainability issues, but problems also occur when we want to get rid of old clothes and textiles.

Synthetic fibers are one of the biggest problems. Materials like polyester, which currently is present in about 60% of clothing, it is very resource-intensive to produce and leads to almost three times more carbon dioxide emissions than organic cotton. From a waste perspective, it takes a very long time to break down and when washed it releases microplastics that end up in oceans and water streams. Scientists are not yet sure of the impacts of microplastics on the environment, animals, and humans, but speaking from a complete layman’s perspective: I can’t imagine that inhaling tiny plastic particles is great for anyone.

This is a waste pyramid. It describes the preferred ways of getting rid of a piece of clothing and is a great tool to keep in mind when you’re ready to part ways with your unwanted clothes.

cltohing blog LE

Reduce – Reducing waste is something designers, manufacturers and consumers must consider. On the design level, is it possible to use materials and construct garments that are durable and can easily be mended? For consumers, consider the longevity of the things you buy – do you really need to get an outfit for just that one night out? The best way to reduce waste is to avoid buying new things and cherish what you already own.  Another solution is to rent an outfit for that special occasion through sites such as Girl Meets Dress, My Wardrobe HQ, and  Higher Studio.  What it comes down to is to buy less and better. This is something that the vast majority of clothing companies would advise against, as they want to sell you as much as possible. But there are exceptions. Designer Christopher Raeburn closed his online shop on Black Friday, just to take a stance against excessive consumption and the denim brand Nudie Jeans Co offers a free, lifetime repair service for all their jeans.

Repair – Sometimes, clothes and textiles are thrown away due to small rips, missing buttons, and broken seams. This waste can easily be avoided by mending your clothes and give them new life. There are plenty of instructional videos on YouTube and on the Love Your Clothes website. If needles and thread really isn’t your thing, then your local tailor is your new best friend. They can help you with mending and alterations, and as an extra bonus, you will support a local business. There are also repair cafes and mending events popping up across the country, where you can get help to fix your broken things.

Re-use – Before you throw something away, consider if it can be used for something else? Can it be turned into something completely different? Upcycling is a way to turn old, unwanted clothes into unique new things. Here are some ideas!

Rehome – Pass on your items for someone else to enjoy them. Organise clothes swap with friends and family, donate to a local charity shop, sell on Depop, or keep your eyes out for swap events and pop up thrift shops. Worth knowing is that charity shop on average is only selling 20% of the garments they receive. A large part of it is exported to less economically developed countries, where it is being sold at very low prices and risks and risks putting local clothing manufacturers out of business. This has gone so far that some African countries have banned the import of used clothing from Europe.

Recycle – If your item is beyond repair, every single piece of fabric can be recycled. Check if your local council recycles textiles or find a drop-off point here.

Recover – As a last resort before sending something to landfill, textiles can be recovered and turned into raw material.

Rot – Sending waste to landfill should always be the last option!

That’s a few tips on how to take extra care of the things you already own and avoid contributing to the ever-increasing amounts of landfill. Do you have any other tips on how to take care of your clothes and reduce your waste? Please share them with us!

NTU Students! Want to find out more about how the clothes you wear impacts the planet? Complete the Clothing theme of the Sustainability in Practice Certificate on NOW.


-This blog post was written by Lina Erkandssonn, an Education for Sustainable Development Coordinator in the Green Academy Team at NTU. 

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