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The world’s landfills are overflowing with textile waste. While we might assume that the biggest culprit is the ever-growing fast-fashion industry, the average North American has a part to play, too.
Between 1999 and 2009, the amount of textile waste generated by North America grew by over 40 percent to 25.46 billion pounds, and projections for the future are grim: 35.4 billion pounds are expected to have been thrown away by 2019.
It’s estimated that 85 percent of textile waste gets thrown straight into the garbage, with the average North American contributing 81 pounds of textiles to landfills per year.
Toronto is known as a city with progressive views on recycling and reducing waste. Why are textiles a forgotten material when it comes to reducing the city’s carbon footprint?
While fast-fashion giants operate as obvious scapegoats for this problem, even high-end retailers and design houses are over-producing goods. Gone are the fashion collections with four seasons per calendar year. Multiple between-season collections are now released, providing a constant surge of “must-have” purchases between seasons and a steady stream of goods for fashion-conscious shoppers.
The first step towards a more sustainable future begins with properly recycling clothing and textile items – a cause that thrift superstore Value Village has taken on full-force.
Supporting Value Village with donations, or by shopping there, is an easy, eco-friendly way to give back to the community at large. By donating textiles to local nonprofits at Value Village, Torontonians provide financial support to non-profits like Big Brothers, YWCA, Diabetes Canada and the Developmental Disabilities Association. Items collected by the not-for-profits themselves are also purchased by Value Village.
These efforts amount to 650 million pounds of recycled clothing per year, says their VP of recycling, Tony Shumpert. Roughly 50 percent of it is in good enough condition to put on the retail floor, and the rest is recycled or shipped to countries in need where it’s distributed and reused.
Recycling clothing isn’t just important because it keeps existing items out of landfills. The current clothing and textile manufacturing takes a massive toll on the environment.
According to the United States EPA, it takes over 700 gallons of water to make just one new cotton t-shirt, and over 1,800 gallons to make a new pair of jeans. Recycling textiles has a greater impact on reducing greenhouse gases than that of recycling yard waste, glass and plastic.
Reducing the environmental footprint of Torontonians is still possible, without needing to forgo a stylish wardrobe. Shopping smarter means visiting shops and supporting brands that are equally committed to protecting the environment, reducing textiles in landfills and cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions.
Eco-conscious consumers can shop from ethical manufacturers that make efforts to recycle. When purchasing new items, they should also attempt to reduce impulse buys, instead favouring quality basics that can be worn long-term or repaired if damaged.
Many clothing manufacturers like H&M and Patagonia provide transparency into how their goods are produced they also offer options for recycling used textiles. Other brands like Reformation sell upscale, trendy pieces while reusing limited quantities of overstock fabrics, rather than producing further waste.
Beyond shopping at environmentally friendly retailers, reducing consumption of new textiles overall is the most ethical solution. Consignment shopping provides an easy way to recycle old clothing, and purchase new items at a significant savings.
Over 96 percent of the items resold by Value Village are priced at less than $10 – meaning fast fashion retailers don’t stand a chance when it comes to affordable, on-trend pieces.
With a wide variety of seasonal offerings available at thrift stores like Value Village, it’s easy to maintain an on-trend wardrobe without breaking the bank or contributing to landfills. Plus, in an era of mass-produced fast-fashion, shopping second-hand can be the easiest way to stand out in the crowd.
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