With the new year comes that familiar itch to begin again and reflect on a year’s worth of choices. How do we want to approach this next chapter in a different, more impactful way? Nearly everything in our lives can be examined through this lens, right down to our wardrobes.
The era of industrialization and later the Internet made consumerism and e-consumerism integral parts of the economy. Economic growth now depends on the continued marketing of new products and the disposal of old ones, mostly because stylistic norms deem them obsolete. When it comes to the clothing industry, the rate of purchase and disposal has increased dramatically, meaning that landfills are filling up faster than ever.
In other words, fashion leaves a pollution footprint, especially “fast fashion” and clothing made from certain materials. A study published in the journal of Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) discusses how the demand for man-made fibers like polyester nearly doubled in the last 15 years (as of 2007) given the rise in production in the fashion industry. The manufacture of synthetic fibers like polyester requires incredible amounts of energy and crude oil that releases emissions like volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride.
Fashion leaves a pollution footprint, especially “fast fashion” and clothing made from certain materials.Click To Tweet
In fact, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers many textile manufacturing facilities to be hazardous waste generators.
If, like me, you’re searching for new and improved ways to kick off 2018 with a refreshed dedication to sustainable living, this article will teach you the ins and outs of how to clean out your closet in a way that will not only make you feel good, but will do good, too.
“Here’s how to clean out
your closet in a way that will
not only make you feel good,
but will do good, too.”
Step 1 — Sift, Sort & Declutter
Before you can build a mindful wardrobe, you must purge your closet of the clothes you bought without this new intention.
Once purchased, approximately 21% of annual clothing purchases remain in the home, a figure that represents a large amount of what’s called latent waste that will eventually find its way into our waste system. According to the EPA, Americans dispose of more than 68 pounds of clothes per person annually, and 15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013. Clothing and other textiles represent about 9% of the municipal solid waste — a figure that’s growing incessantly. So how can you approach decluttering your closet in a way that won’t add fuel to the environmental fire?
As a starting point, ensure that all of your clothing is freshly laundered. If it isn’t, start this process with a laundry day. Then, remove everything from your closet and dresser drawers, working to gather it all in one spot. The goal here is to create an overwhelming pile to help add to your motivation to get rid of the excess.
Grab a pad of sticky notes and write “keep” on one and “donate” on another. Notice there is no “sell” or “discard” sticky note — the intention to sell can be a good one, but often leads to hanging onto clutter for longer, which is not the goal here. And of course, we’re trying to avoid adding garbage to our landfills
Place the sticky notes on the floor, and begin sorting one piece at a time.
Before you can build a mindful wardrobe, you must purge your closet of the clothes you bought without your 'sustainable wardrobe' intention.Click To Tweet
A. Deciding What To Keep
When deciding what to keep, there are a few different approaches you can take. One of the most famous methods was brought to light by Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. http://amzn.to/2FM0owi
This method can be boiled down to one simple question: “Does it spark JOY?” If the answer is no, or if you hesitate, or if you haven’t worn it in a year, say adieu and put it in the donate pile.
There is also the wonderful minimalist approach known as the capsule wardrobe, which aims to reduce your closet to roughly 30 or so pieces, which includes only a small rotation of tops, outerwear, bottoms, and shoes. Use whatever method resonates the most with you.
Of course, there is always the option to have an older piece of clothing that you love (but may be damaged) repaired, and there are also a number of creative ways to upcycle clothing to make them fit or turn them into something else you may need, if you have the know-how.
B. A Note On Donating
What you don’t keep doesn’t need to end up at the landfill. Besides reselling, clothing gets recycled in two ways: it may be exported in bulk for sale in other countries, or it may be chemically or mechanically recycled into raw materials for the manufacture of other products.
Unfortunately, textiles have one of the poorest recycling rates of any reusable material, with Americans donating only 15% of their clothes every year. It’s projected that the amount which gets tossed into landfills may reach 35.4 billion pounds in 2019.
To encourage donations, the U.S. government offers tax incentives for citizens who donate to charities like the Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries. But donating doesn’t have to be a solely charitable act. Given that many people aren’t sure of the best ways to dispose of their clothes, many for-profit companies are trying to add more convenient recycling options to the mix, such as Viltex’s donation bins in Brooklyn, New York, and Wearable Collections in NYC.
According to Jackie King, executive director of the Secondhand Materials and Recycled Textiles Association, “if [people] want to use a charitable organization to reuse or recycle clothing, great. If not, let’s make it convenient for people to dispose of it elsewhere.”
In fact, there’s only a 15 or 20% chance that a piece of clothing you’ve donated will be worn by someone locally, since charities receive too much to be able to resell it all (only about half of donated clothing gets worn again). When they can’t resell something, they reach out to the for-profit companies like Viltex to help them properly recycle the excess.
Charity or not, look up all the local donation and recycling options available to you and see if retailers you buy from offer buy back or recycling programs themselves.
“Resolve to make all your
clothing purchase decisions
Step 2 — Build & Buy Mindfully
Going forward, whether you’re aiming to build a minimalist capsule wardrobe or not, resolve to make all your purchasing decisions with sustainability in mind. But what does sustainable clothing actually look like?
A. Find The Right Materials
Image source: PACT
Man-made fabrics aren’t the only culprits when it comes to hazardous manufacturing materials. Cotton, one of the most popular and versatile fibers used to make clothes, also comes with a significant environmental footprint when manufactured conventionally. In fact, conventional cotton production accounts for one quarter of all the pesticides used in the U.S.
Organic cotton, however, is a different story. According to the Textile Exchange 2016 Organic Cotton Market report, the 2014/15 organic cotton harvest equated to a potential saving (compared to conventional cotton) of:
218 billion liters of water (87,201 olympic sized pools)
288.7 million kilowatts of energy (549,314 years of a 60 watt light bulb)
92.5 million kilograms of CO2 (13,572 times driving an average car around the world)
315,030 kilograms of hazardous pesticides
40.9 million kilograms of chemical fertilizers
Because of the clear benefits of organic cotton farming and manufacturing, more and more companies are making the switch, giving consumers better options.
When shopping, look for labels that include certifications such as the Organic Exchange (OE) Blended or OE 100, which denote standards of tracing the organic fiber from the field to the end product. Even better is the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). According to PACT, a popular organic cotton clothing retailer, this certification is “the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibers, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain.”When shopping, look for labels that include certifications such as the Organic Exchange (OE) Blended or OE 100.Click To Tweet
PACT’s clothing line is made primarily of the daily essentials for men, women, and kids, and is backed by this certification. They’d be a great place to start when beginning to rebuild your sustainable wardrobe if shopping new.
Image source: PACT
Also look for clothing made with linen and hemp, which are also known to be less polluting and don’t require pesticides or fertilizers to grow. These materials also are much less of a drain on our water resources.
For warmer fabrics, Man Repeller recommends opting for alpaca in lieu of cashmere. At some point in the process, the high demand for cashmere production leads to overgrazing, and when land is overgrazed, “the soil can’t store water or nutrients so it becomes unhealthy, which slowly transforms previously fertile land into a desert.” Alpaca, on the other hand, have a much lighter environmental footprint.
Other materials that lean on the more sustainable side include silk, recycled post-consumer PET, and TENCEL®. Keep in mind there is no “perfectly sustainable” material — knowing how to make better and more informed decisions is the goal.
#Sustainable clothing isn’t fast. By modifying our consumer choices — or simply opting for an #organic shirt — we can make a difference.Click To Tweet
B. Avoid Fast Fashion
Sustainable clothing isn’t fast. The term “fast fashion” means clothing that has been mass-produced to become more affordable, attracting consumers to buy more, leading to more waste. These cheaper, mass-produced garments are more disposable and more damaging to the environment and economy. Tasha Lewis, a professor at Cornell University’s Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design, says “the rate of disposal is not keeping up with the availability of places to put everything that we’re getting rid of, and that’s the problem.”
But there is an alternative for those who still need or want to shop on a budget. As of 2006, roughly 12-15% of Americans shopped at consignment or resale stores, preventing an estimated 2.5 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste from entering the landfills. For both a budget- and more environmentally-friendly shopping option, opt for thrifting at these kinds of used and vintage clothing stores.
Build a Capsule Wardrobe of Sustainable Staples
Image credit: PACT
PACT’s clothing line is made primarily of the daily essentials for men, women, and kids, and is backed by organic cotton certification. They’d be a great place to start when beginning to rebuild your sustainable wardrobe if shopping new.
Here are a few of favorite my go-to organic cotton staples:
What better way to build a minimalist, sustainable wardrobe than by selecting my organic cotton essentials. From underwear to tops, bottoms, dresses, jackets and sleepwear, I can mix and match these basics for most of my lifestyle needs.
Jackets and Cardigans:
Photo credit: Clothing images courtesy of PACT
All of the organic cotton basics above are available at PACT’s website or you can find a lot of PACT’s clothing on Amazon.
For many of us, social change can feel incredibly elusive, but by modifying our consumer choices — simply opting for an organic shirt — we can make a difference.
What is your approach to creating a sustainable wardrobe?
What would you include in your capsule wardrobe?
Share your thoughts and comments with us.
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