While celebrating Earth Week and Fashion Revolution Day in an elementary school this year, students were asked to assess their wardrobe: to count their clothes and comment on the number they own. The average was 106 and the median was 73. While some students had as few as 17 garments, others had wardrobes numbering in the hundreds. One even had as many as 451 garments. Even from a young age, children are accustomed to having more clothes than they’ll ever need or want. Many of these clothes, they admit, they’ll never even wear. Some expressed surprise about their number, some were even distressed. Clothes came from two sources: purchased new by relatives, or handed down by friends and family. Though second-hand may be common among children, adults are much less interested in the idea of wearing reused clothing. Nonetheless, they remain interested in having lots of clothes, even if they never wear them.
The average consumer purchases clothing like groceries—at a rate of about 1.2 garments per week, roughly 64 a year, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association. Garments are worn frequently during the first year when purchased, but fewer than half of garments are still worn on a regular basis after the second year. After that, garments are usually donated when only gently used and in good condition, as the charities request. The overwhelming remainder is discarded.
On average, a person generates up to 81 pounds of textile waste annually, with 85 percent ending up in our landfills. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, only 15 percent is collected from clothing donations and diverted. Currently, 7.5 percent of the diverted textiles are converted or recycled. Only 6.75 percent of diverted textiles are reused, adds the Council for Textile Recycling—an even smaller fraction of which is reused in Canada. The majority of this reused material is shipped to developing countries. We need to get used to donating everything for textile recycling, no matter the condition. Additionally, those gently used clothes should be reused locally. This means getting used to wearing second-hand again like when we were young.
To increase textile diversion requires the creation of both a culture of reuse and a textile recycling industry. From a waste management perspective, the ideal waste diversion strategy would be to produce less waste, which would mean having fewer clothes in the first place, seeking second-hand clothes and using them as long as possible, and recycling garments at the end of their life cycle.
Municipalities need to get involved in the collection of textiles. First, by letting consumers know that each garment no matter its condition is collected. Second, by expanding their responsibilities to foster a second-hand market for textiles by providing the means for flea markets and swap events to take place. Third, to encourage research and development on how to recycle textile waste. It takes time to convince consumers to make informed decisions when they buy new garments, to use these garments as long as possible, and to get excited about second-hand clothes. However, doing so, and giving consumers the means to recycle their unwanted clothes would reduce consumption, reduce waste, and allow one person’s old garments to become another’s new treasure.
Value Village has recognized that there is a need for action to get more textiles out of landfills. In order to learn more about the perceptions and behaviours of people in the U.S. and Canada about reuse, they commissioned Edelman Intelligence to conduct an online survey in 2016 with more than 3000 people. The key findings provide valuable information for municipalities designing textile diversion programs:
- Almost half of North Americans believe they have too much stuff.
- Overflowing closets are the No. 1 prompt for people to donate their unwanted clothing.
- Americans vastly underestimate the amount of used clothing and accessories they send to landfills each year: They report throwing away 4.7 trash bags worth, while the actual amount is nearly double at 8.1 trash bags.
- Of people who do not donate used goods, one in three say it’s just more convenient to throw these items away.
- More than half of North Americans surveyed say they are more likely to reuse clothing after hearing about the significant environmental impact of textile manufacturing.
- Nearly half of North Americans say they would donate more if they knew their donation would help nonprofits they support.
- Ninety-four percent of North Americans believe the concepts behind reuse should be taught in schools to increase sustainable habits in future generations.
The following photos of Value Village’s art installation were taken June 21 in Toronto. The installation was part of the Rethink Reuse Summit, where Value Village/Savers presented the results of its study. The Installation is based on finding number 5: More than half of North Americans surveyed say they are more likely to reuse clothing after hearing about the significant environmental impact of textile manufacturing.
The installation in the centre of Toronto was an awareness campaign showing how much water is needed to produce a garment.
The “towers” symbolize water fountains, and pedestrians were invited to take home a free, second-hand T- shirt with the Rethink Reuse logo on it.