The pandemic of 2020 irrevocably changed our country and the world. It’s revealed ways we must change. The pandemic response laid bare the truth that we live in an unsustainable world. If nature was allowed to take its course during the pandemic; without shutdowns, closures, masks and social distancing, individuals, families, and health care systems would have been completely overwhelmed, unable to respond, and hundreds of thousands more would likely have died. While the pandemic showed that we live in an unsustainable world, it also showed the power of human resilience, innovation, ability to adapt and adjust our course, and that we are extraordinary problem solvers. That’s the theme for today – working toward a #betternormal with the power of human resilience, innovation, ability to adapt and adjust our course, and apply our extraordinary problem-solving skills.
We badly need a #betternormal in our consumption habits. How many of us know when we need to go on a diet or kick-up our exercise routine? Once our clothes no longer fit, or our medical tests reveal new health risks, or we just start to see and feel changes that aren’t working for us, we know change is needed. However, unlike weight gain, not everything that needs changing is easily seen. Our consumption habits -- specifically -- how much clothing we purchase is one of these. We’re badly in need of a #betternormal concerning our clothing consumption. Many of us have no idea how unsustainable our clothing consumption habits are.
Did you know?
- The consumption of clothing (and footwear) creates one of the biggest injuries to the planet, because most clothing is thrown away and ends up in landfills.
- Recent numbers show that in the United States, 70% of clothing (and footwear) was thrown away in landfills. That percentage is probably understated, because it doesn’t reflect clothes and fabric thrown away by the fashion industry before it gets to us consumers.
- The volume of clothing thrown away in the United States each year has doubled in the last 20 years, from 7 million to 14 million tons.
- The “Fast Fashion” model of some retailers is pushing out cheaper clothing, of lower quality, at very high rates, which contributes to the practice of buying and throwing away more clothing, continually adding burden to landfills and landfill space.
- The textile and clothing manufacturing process itself contributes to environmental degradation due to the amount of water needed in textile manufacturing, pesticides used to grow fabric materials (e.g., cotton), and other chemicals (nitrous oxide) used to produce nylon and polyester.
What You Can Do for A #betternormal
- Reduce Your Clothing Consumption-- Go on a clothes diet, and like any good diet, stick with it forever. Buy less; only buy when you really need it; and when you buy, look for retailers that sell recycled or previously worn clothing, like Patagonia’s Worn Wear, or ThredUp (read more next!)
- Buy Reused Clothing or Sell or Donate Your Used Clothing – Shop previously owned clothing. There are more options than ever to buy previously owned clothing and to also donate or sell the clothing that you no longer want or need. Spending just a few minutes on the internet to research your options could be a bonus payoff for you and the environment. You can shop at your local Goodwill or consignment shop. ThredUp is another on-line consignment and thrift shop with a huge selection of previously owned clothing. They have Gap to Gucci, including Lululemon, Anthropologie, Madewell and more. There’s also the earlier mentioned Patagonia’s Worn Wear program; Eileen Fischer also has a clothes buyback and resale program; Arc’teryx has a buyback and resale program; and others, including REI, are getting on board with this approach. Buying and selling used clothing, vs. new, can make a big difference. We do it with cars and now many ethically-minded retailers are finding ways to do it with clothes.
- Think Out of the Box -- Recycle or Repurpose the Clothes You Can’t Sell or Donate – Get creative. If you can’t resell or donate your clothes, recycle your clothes into something else instead of throwing them away. Old shirts, denim, and other clothing fabrics can be turned into functional or beautiful pieces. If you have an old shirt you love but no longer wear, think about making it into a decorative pillow cover, re-upholstering a chair, making cloth placements and napkins, or making a custom fabric wall hanging. Are you a crafter or know a crafter that uses a lot of plastic-based ribbon? Try a craft project using worn clothing or fabric scraps. Have a pair of well-worn jeans that are falling apart? You can turn them into a braided basket. There are other great on-line tutorials showing creative ways to give your clothing new life. Last, and no way least, don’t underestimate the value of turning your well-worn old clothes into rags. Anything can be a rag, and you’ll always need them. Rags can replace paper towels, which saves trees, and is a great win for the environment.
A lot of us may buy clothes only when we really need to. That's a habit to keep. But many others of us buy on a whim, impulse, out of boredom, the need for a "pick me up", because the sale was just too good to pass up, or because “it’s just SO cute.” Those habits have caught up with us and have created massive stress on the environment because most clothes end up in landfills. Natural resources are expended and polluted in the process of bringing us those 4 for $10 t-shirts that never get worn, or worn once and then get trashed. In the United States, we’re free to shop where we want and how much we want based on our own personal decisions. That freedom also comes with responsibility and opportunity to shop sustainably with an outlook on the well-being of our shared environment and its future.
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