What on Earth are we doing with our clothing waste?

JCB on a landfill site

Why on earth do we waste so much clothing?

It really does appear to have become the norm to recycle paper, plastic and food. We even have collections fortnightly from home, yet most of us don't routinely recycle or reuse used old and unwanted clothing. Many of us leave it in boxes under our bed not really knowing what we are going to do with it. Then we get the 'spring cleaning' urge and it ends up going to the tip with all the other rubbish and then onto landfill.

Years ago people would have repaired and reused clothing as it wasn't so affordable or available, but these days its cheaper and very convenient to buy, (we don't even need to leave our homes). We don't necessarily feel the need or have the time to remake, reuse or alter.

A shocking 350,000 tonnes, (around £140 million worth) of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year.

Thats around 30% of the UK's unwanted clothing that currently makes its way to landfill.

We British send 700,000 tonnes of clothing to recycling centre's and textile banks, along with clothes collections and charity shops every year. That’s enough to fill 459 Olympic-size swimming pools. - Crazy!

I have to confess I'm one of the 60% of householders that say they have unwanted clothes and textiles squirreled away at home. Most of mine are sewing projects that have never happened.

What so bad about clothing going to landfill?

Well toxic chemicals for starters. Yup, they are pretty smelly places. Before all the stringent controls were introduced, anything and everything was thrown in. Including metals, plastics and batteries. This creates a lot of greenhouse gases.

Organic waste such as, food and natural fibers are all biodegradable and break down without oxygen. But as this process happens, the bacteria releases gases that stink and not only that, they are highly flammable. In hot weather it isn't unknown for recycling centre's to have huge fires.

Question mark

Why do we waste so much clothing?

When clothes are so freely and cheaply available, there is less incentive for people to make do and mend. The culture has shifted towards a fast paced fashion. Old clothes are simply disposed of and replaced with new ones. Apparently us consumers wear our clothes a mere six times before we get rid. Lots of impulse purchases are made and then never worn, they just kick around our bedrooms waiting for their fate to be decided.

Common reasons for not recycling are
  • They didn't think they could because they've been worn 
  • They don't have the means or the time to take them to charity shops or recycling centre's. 
  • They just don't want too.
  • They are out of fashion, so no one will want them.

So, What is the impact of sending clothes to landfill?

Clothes can take hundreds of years to decompose, Taking up space and frankly looking unsightly. If we don’t recycle our textiles then we need to make more clothes to replace the ones that have ended up in a massive rubbish heap, and the environmental impact of this is huge.

For example.
Producing enough cotton for just one t-shirt can use up to half a kilogram of pesticide, which can then get into our waterways and have a detrimental effect on the health of the poor wildlife that don't wear clothes.

Green fingers with fresh shoot

What are the alternatives?

Putting clothes in the bin effectively sends them directly to landfill but a little creative thinking can make their outcome much more meaningful.
  • Charities can reuse or recycle almost anything, even if items are damaged or dirty. 
  • Buy Vintage clothing 
  • Looking after your clothes to make them last longer! Careful washing according to the label and proper storage means that you can continue to enjoy them.
  • Buy second hand. 
  • Give to organizations who export to foreign markets where clothing shops can create mini enterprises.
  • Recycled clothing can be turned into insulation, stuffing for furniture and material for making paper.
  • Use for craft projects and make something new and fabulous with them

These alternatives provide a much happier outcome for the environment.

When you next go shopping try to remember it’s about quality not quantity. You might even surprise yourself about how many items of clothing you actually need by creating a ‘capsule wardrobe’. If you are going out to buy clothing, buy to last. Wearing vintage clothes instantly reduces the carbon footprint and reduces waste being sent to the dreaded landfill.

If you put a little thought into it next time your shopping, you could be doing something that you can feel good about. Wasting less to help us all live more.

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