With the recent rise of modern hipsterism and a rapidly growing environmental movement, many millennials have moved toward a more sustainable way of living. Initiatives such as the minimalist movement and the tiny home movement, lifestyle choices like going clean, organic, GMO free, or gluten free, and a reiterated focus on reducing one's impact on the world and living in a way that promotes personal health and well being, are all ways to adopt a lifestyle of sustainable living. One of these trends is a new interest in reusing and recycling textiles, through thrift stores, donation centers, and textile recycle centers. While the benefits seem to speak for themselves, I have compiled a list of seven reasons why thrifting and recycling clothes is important and provides tangible impacts on not only the earth but society as well.
1. Donating clothing helps people in need.
Thrift stores and recycling centers excel at serving underprivileged members of society. Selling gently used clothing at a discounted price can help families and individuals dress themselves with dignity and style without breaking the bank. This can help increase self esteem and even help one more easily gain better employment and social mobility. For example, the Salvation Army recycles and resells donated items in a way that serves the community by encouraging consumerism while also providing jobs and marketable skills for those in need.
2. Donated clothing creates a sustainable market that is both chic and cheap.
Repurposed, recycled, and reused clothing is gaining a larger niche each year in modern society. Thrift store finds are not only good for the environment, humanity, and your wallet, but they are also actually very fashionable. According to consumer trend research conducted by America’s Research Group in 2007, and cited by the National Institute of Health, "12–15 percent of Americans shop at consignment or resale stores. The Council for Textile Recycling estimates that 2.5 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste (which includes anything made of fabric) is thus collected and prevented from entering directly into the waste stream. This represents 10 pounds for every person in the United States...” In addition to provided jobs to those in need, donated clothes are more sustainable than traditional manufacturing. Items that are not bought can be sent to foreign countries or organizations that take reuse the fabric or sometimes even completely reweave the threads.
3. Recycling clothes benefits the environment.
The degradation of the environment is a growing concern in world politics and society, as the effects of eroding environmental health could have devastating repercussions. The production of clothing, however, is a large contributor to the destruction of the environment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which "considers many domestic textile manufacturing facilities to be hazardous waste generators; and lax standards and enforcement in developing countries, where the majority of textiles are produced, means that untold amounts of pollution are likely being deposited into local soils and waterways in regions that can hardly stand further environmental insult.” Synthetic textiles utilize hazardous chemicals and require fossil fuels to be produced, and natural textiles, such as cotton, have been reported to use almost a quarter of all pesticides in the U.S. While these negative impacts may never be completely eradicated, their effects may be widely reduced simply by the reuse and recycle of textiles.
4. Can improve health.
The production of textiles is not only extremely stressful on the environment, but can also create some serious health problems. According to an article from Environmental Health Perspectives, “Fast fashion leaves a pollution footprint, with each step of the clothing life cycle generating potential environmental and occupational hazards. The EPA, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, considers many textile manufacturing facilities to be hazardous waste generators.” This waste not only affects factory workers and impacts the environment, but could potentially affect the general population through the emissions produced by these plants. Reducing textile production by voting with your dollar and supporting sustainable initiatives over large manufacturers may not only help the environment, but your health and the health of your families.Even if sustainably produced clothing is out of reach, buying recycled clothing prevents you from directly participating in these production practices, which may eventually lead to reform.
5. Recycling clothing can help limit unethical business practices.
The demand for clothing can often lead to outsourcing business practices that result in poor treatment of foreign workers and other basic rights violations. Pietra Rivoli of Georgetown University writes in her 2005 book, The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, that "each year Americans purchase approximately 1 billion garments made in China, the equivalent of four pieces of clothing for every U.S. citizen. According to figures from the U.S. National Labor Committee, some Chinese workers make as little as 12–18 cents per hour working in poor conditions. And with the fierce global competition that demands ever lower production costs,many emerging economies are aiming to get their share of the world’s apparel markets, even if it means lower wages and poor conditions for workers ” This demand for clothing has resulted in the globalization of poor business practices that are overall detrimental to society as a whole, and impact far more people than your average consumer.
6. Helps promote the minimalist lifestyle. Reduces costly consumerism and waste.
An uncluttered and minimalist lifestyle has been touted by scientists and its proponents alike as the way to happiness. Materialism does not make us happy, and minimizing the unessential aspects of our lives allows us to focus more on the essential parts of life that do make us happy, such as personal relationships and positive experiences. Additionally, it will prevent us from engaging in costly consumerism and waste. Environmental Health Perspectives writes, "Once bought, an estimated 21 percent of annual clothing purchases stay in the home, increasing the stocks of clothing and other textiles held by consumers, according to Recycling of Low Grade Clothing Waste, a September 2006 report by consultant Oakdene Hollins. The report calls this stockpiling an increase in the 'national wardrobe,' which is considered to represent a potentially large quantity of latent waste that will eventually enter the solid waste stream...Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year, and clothing and other textiles represent about four percent of the municipal solid waste. But this figure is rapidly growing.” The consumerism of Americans not only has foreign ethical, environmental, and health impacts, but ends up being costly and wasteful. Buying and recycling clothing not only reduces this impact on society, but can help reduce your personal impact and wastefulness and reduce strain on your wallet as well.
7. Recycling allows one to create their own unique brand, thus being not only stylish and chic, but empowering.
As my friend Abby so eloquently put it, “We live in our clothing; it affects us through its color, the way it holds or floats over our skin, the conversations it's sparked, the story of its discovery, the sights it's seen, tears it's soaked in, kisses it's felt, have a piece with all of these in it. I suggest that you write a story with the piece you're selling if it has one, or save it for the exchange. Encourage those you to meet and talk about the piece if it's something you really valued at one point; you’re passing on the gift of that clothing that you once received. Carry on each other's experiences through your clothing, because all of those marks are still left within the seams.” By supporting an initiative like clothing recycling, you are not only taking action against overconsumption, violation of human rights, and environmental degradation, you are contributing to your own personal empowerment.
As a clothing obsessed shopping lover, I can understand the difficulties that come with ensuring that your clothing is sustainable or recycled. Buying new clothing that fits this criteria can be prohibitively expensive and frustrating. However, this is not to say that recycling and consuming reused, donated, or recycled clothing is impossible. I guarantee there's few greater joys than digging through a pile of thrift store clothing and finding the perfect piece, and also knowing that by buying used, you are reducing your impact on the world. I encourage you to check out your local thrift stores and donation centers next time you're headed on a shopping spree, to see what they have to offer. Next time you're cleaning out your closet, consider donating instead of trashing old clothes. While it's not practical to buy or donate every piece of clothing you will ever own, you can help by even buying used or recycling 50 percent of your clothing. After all, isn't our world and society worth it?