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Our Clothing Problem

July 19, 2016

About 85 percent of clothing and textiles ends up in landfills. Savers, a for-profit, global thrift retailer of used clothing, accessories and household goods, operating in the industry for more than 60 years, recently published The State of Reuse. To produce the report, Savers commissioned a survey of 3,000 North Americans. According to Savers, consumers around the world purchase more than 80 billion pieces of new clothing every year. Americans trash an average of 8.1 trash bags of clothing each year, amounting to a nationwide 26 billion pounds of textiles tossed.

These numbers are troubling on many levels, starting with the fact that 95 percent of textiles can be reused or recycled.

Consumer perception of how much textiles end up in the trash is drastically underestimated, however. Survey respondents report tossing 4.7 trash bags worth of clothing and accessories each year, while the actual amount is nearly double at 8.1 trash bags.

Misconceptions about the perceived benefits to reuse and the available options for textile reuse and recycling were also revealed by the survey.  One in three people who stated that they “don’t donate” said it’s just “easier” to throw out usable items than to donate them. One in three people surveyed said they didn’t know that 90% or more of textiles can be reused or recycled.

Clothing is relatively cheap for consumers. According to All Business, the fashion industry impacts much of the retail business around the world—home, beauty, cosmetics, and of course, apparel. And, fashion trends, along with hyperbolic retail advertising campaigns, foster the notion that we “need” to consume the latest in clothing styles. Pop culture images serve to reinforce this onslaught of new apparel and accessory trends.

Not surprisingly, the Saver survey found that nearly 50% of people feel they have “too much stuff.” But yet, as a society, there are clearly many of us who keep buying. Ultimately, as I’ve reflected previously in a NERC Blog, little will change the drive to consume since our world embraces a linear economic model that ties economic health to ever growing consumption.

As materials managers, we can certainly do more to promote reuse. The Saver survey found that almost half of respondents say “they would donate more if they knew their donation would help nonprofits they support.” Promoting reuse and its benefits, along with opportunities for reuse in our communities, can have a substantial impact at reducing the number of textiles ending up in the trash, while benefiting our communities and the environment.

By Athena Lee Bradley

to make reuse work for your community, discover the “triple bottom line” benefits of reuse, and network with leaders in the reuse industry.

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