In the first chapter of Laudato Si‘, Pope Francis refers to “a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish.”
We donate our unwanted clothes in the hopes that they will be used by those in need. But do we really know what happens to them?
I never thought about that, until I saw this:
The United States produces just under 17 million U.S. tons of textile waste per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Two-thirds of this ends up in landfills.
In Britain, shoppers buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe according to a 2019 UK parliamentary report by the Environmental Audit Committee.
The world is producing, consuming, and throwing away more clothes than ever before.
Globally, only 30% of collected clothing are resold on domestic markets. This is due to poor quality and low resale value. The rest are packaged up and sold to textile merchants who ship them overseas to Sub-Saharan Africa.
While this increases the lifespan of our clothing, gives low income communities inexpensive options, and creates a new local economy of buying and reselling the clothing, the system is overwhelmed. Cheap, fast fashion and our voracious appetite to consume has become an environmental nightmare. Why? Shipping our used goods around the world (which, by the way, comes with a significant carbon footprint) and the low quality of what is shipped means 1/3 of the clothing is unusable and ends up, at best, in a third-world landfill, and at worst, in rivers, streams, and other waterways of Africa. See textilemountainfilm.com for an exposé on the problem.
Looking for solutions? You can purchase used clothing at local thrift stores. You can buy (and sell) your clothing at consignment shops such as Buffalo Exchange in Ballard and Labels Consignment in Phinney Ridge. ThredUp (thredup.com) and Poshmark (poshmark.com) are two good options that allow you to buy and sell clothing online.
Ultimately though, the most sustainable product is the one you didn’t buy.
Working together, we can help take care of our common home.