Column: What Should You Do With Old Clothes?

September 16, 2022 | 1 Comment

[Column written by Bermuda Is Love]

Bermuda Is Love has launched a campaign titled #NoNewClothes where we are challenging the public to purchase #NoNewClothes for the month of September. As part of the campaign, we are publishing weekly articles in Bernews highlighting the problem of fast fashion and what we as consumers can do about it. Please read our third article titled ‘What should you do with your old clothes?’ and take the #NoNewClothes pledge for September.

The problem of fast fashion

Global appetite for new clothing has expanded rapidly over the past two decades as clothes have become cheaper, more abundant, and easier than ever to buy than ever largely thanks to the spread of fast fashion and online shopping. This has caused textile waste to increase to 11.3 million tons in 2018, up from 1.7 million tons in 1960.

As a result of this increase in production and consumption, the fashion industry now produces an estimated 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 20% of the world’s wastewater and also exploits garment workers in the Global South. Made worse, there is simply no easy, universal guidance for the most sustainable, ethical, or hassle-free way to dispose of all the clothing that the fashion industry rapidly produces. In this article, we will examine two solutions to the problem of what to do with clothing that you do not want to wear anymore, including options of donating and recycling your old clothing.

#NoNewClothes Campaign #NONEWCLOTHES Take the Bermuda Is Love 30

The benefits of donating your clothes

The traditional way to dispose of unwanted clothing, without throwing them away, is to donate them to charitable organisations, thrift shops, or consignment stores. The purpose of donating clothing is to prevent clothing from ending up in a landfill or some other waste facility. By donating your clothing, you help to extend the life span of clothing, reduce your carbon footprint, and prevent further CO2 emissions.

Further, you are also giving to a charity or non-profit that will give your clothes to someone in need. In this regard, there is the underlying belief that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, insofar as, someone else will be able to use the clothes that you do not want anymore and add value to them. There is now a plethora of secondhand stores, thrift shops, and charities that welcome donated clothing. In fact, secondhand clothing and thrifting in general is now considered a popular new trend.

The problem of donating your clothes

Problematically, however, thrift stores and charities receive far more clothing donations than they could ever hope to sell. About 80% of all the clothing donated to charities and thrift stores is not sold. Here lies the problem: the fashion industry churns out far too many clothes that can ever be hoped to be all worn, bought, or sold. There are simply not enough buyers or people for all of the new clothing produced every year, let alone for all of the unwanted things already in people’s closets. And much of what is donated is not desirable.

Thus, the burden of what to do with unwanted clothes often gets pushed from individual consumers to charitable stores. Many charities and thrift stores end up either selling their unwanted clothing for rags, shipping them to countries in the Global South, such as Ghana, or simply throwing them away into landfills or other waste facilities.

Complicatedly, countries that accept large amounts of secondhand textile imports from the U.S. and UK now have enormous textile-waste problems of their own. For example, in Ghana, which is one of the biggest importers of secondhand clothing, landfill sites are now overloaded with clothing debris. In one of such sites methane has exploded creating a fire fuelled by smouldering clothes and toxic gas that has been constantly burning.

Giving directly to individuals

One partial solution to the problem of the global secondhand clothing trade is to give and/or trade your clothes directly with friends and family members. This can ensure that your clothes go to persons who actually wants them and will wear them. Another option is to sell your clothes on clothing-specific digital markets such as Poshmark, Depop, and thredUP. Generalized resale platforms like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and Mercari are also full of clothes.

However, while donating directly to individuals is preferable to donating to secondhand stores and charities, it is pointless if you are continuously buying new clothes and chasing new trends. Moreover, even if everyone traded their clothes with their family members and sold their clothes online directly to individuals, someone will always have to decide what to do with the old clothing once it reaches the end of its lifespan; and a decision will always have to be made for clothing that no one wants.

The benefit of recycling your clothes

One solution to this problem, of what to do with clothing at the end of its lifespan, is to recycle it. Recycling clothes saves energy by reducing or eliminating the need to make materials from scratch. In the best-case scenario, clothing can be chopped up finely in order to be re-spun into thread and made into new textiles, usually in conjunction with virgin materials to improve the fabric’s quality.

However, this process can only happen if the clothing is made out of pure, natural material, ideally organic cotton. But, as mentioned in a previous article, cotton is one the most water intensive crops which contributes to the fashion industry being responsible for 20% of the worlds wastewater. The fashion industry consumes 32 million Olympic-sized swimming pools of water per year, much of which is used to grow cotton. Furthermore, clothing made with buttons, zippers, embroidery, mixed fabrics, or screen printing can be increasingly difficult to recycle.

The problem of recycling your clothes

Consequently, the problem with much fast fashion is that it is made out of materials that make recycling ineffective or impossible because the labour required to separate out the components of any one garment can be too difficult or too costly to justify. For example, a single bra might contain metal, plastic, nylon, elastane, and polyester all knitted or sewn together in tiny structural components. Undoing that work in order to stuff a few little bits of fabric into some throw pillows is simply not cost-effective.

The worst materials in clothing for recycling and materials that you must avoid are polyester [virgin], nylon, cotton [conventional], acrylic, and rayon [viscose].

The best materials for recycling and materials that you should buy include recycled [organic] cotton, organic hemp, organic linen, Tencel, and recycled polyester.

Hard facts

When faced with what to do with secondhand clothing that no one wants to wear, such as clothing that has significant stains or is completely threadbare, or clothing that is made from products that are unable to be recycled, the best option may be to simply throw the clothing away, especially if you’ve truly gotten every bit of use out of it.

This will mean that the clothing will probably go into a domestic landfill that complies with at least some environmental regulations and will mean that you avoid sending your trash overseas for other people to deal with and avoid literally dumping the problem onto others. Here in Bermuda, it will mean throwing your clothes in Tyne’s Bay which has the benefit of turning our waste into energy. However, this in itself is not a sustainable way of disposing our clothing.

When faced with the problem of fast fashion which is designed to profit from our overconsumption of clothing and our need to stay on top of current trends, the best thing a person can do is not be sucked into buying or replacing clothing that they throw away or donate. This represents the campaign #NoNewClothes. We must learn to reduce our consumption of clothing in the first place, before we consider donating or recycling.

Reduce

In this regard, the first step against the problem of fast fashion is to reduce our consumption habits. We must recognise that our overconsumption hurts the environment and garment workers. Moreover, there is no simple solution to what to do with our old clothes. As fast fashion companies keep rapidly mass-producing large quantities of cheap, poor-quality clothes it is our responsibility as consumers to stop buying from companies that pollute the world and infringe the human rights of others. By reducing our consumption, the big fast fashion brands must respond by producing less clothing.

Reuse

The second step against the problem of fast fashion is to ensure that you get the most use out of our clothing as possible. In order to prolong the life span of your clothing we recommend washing less and taking care of your clothing to help it last. In addition, we recommend upcycling: sewing a button, hemming a pair of pants, repairing a ripped seam, or taking a pair of shoes to get re-soled.

Bermuda Is Love will be holding a Refashion/Upcycling Workshop at Michelle Fray Design Studio, 6 Burnaby Street [above Spot Restaurant], Hamilton from 10:00am to 1:00pm to teach individuals about how they can upcycle their clothing and extend the lifespan of their clothing. Only after satisfying these two categories [reduce and reuse] do we then begin to rely on recycling.

We must change our attitude towards our clothing

But how does one change their consumption habits and reduce the amount of clothes they buy? In order to fully change our consumption habits, we must change our relationship with our clothing. The problem of fast fashion is that it has created an overabundance of cheap clothes. Clothing is seen in the same vein as single-use plastics. It is cheap and made to be thrown away. The solution, therefore, is to view clothing as an investment. We must consume clothes that are of better quality and sustainable, and therefore more expensive.

Buying something well-made and repairable over the long term will necessarily be more expensive than buying a cheap party dress for one-time use. But, while a $215 dress is not something most people are likely to buy on impulse, that is really the point. Clothing is not meant to be something you wear only once or twice and that’s it. Thus, when you think about your clothing as an investment, you pay a little more, and you are actually careful about what you select. This is the first step towards becoming a conscious shopper and changing your consumption habits.

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Comments (1)

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  1. Joya says:

    Where are the Thift shops in Bermuda?

    Must have one in the town of St. George’s, ST. Davids.
    A pace you can walk to or get to on the bus.

    Those who do not have access to a car.
    Thrifts Shops, Consignment store are a necessary part of our culture.

    Not all the time One has the money to buy NEW things (Clothing)

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