The Best Option For The Environment
Thrift stores are the best places for clothes to go so their wearable lifetime extends beyond the first owner. These secondhand stores are not only the most convenient and popular places for clothes to be dropped off but also the best environmentally friendly option. There are other ways for consumers to dispose of their clothes that include throwing them away so they end up in landfills and take years to break down. People could also drop them off at recycling centers so they can be turned into other items such as upholstery and seat stuffing but the carbon emissions are extremely large. Recovering the energy used from burning textiles sounds like an okay idea until you look at how much energy is used to burn the materials. These alternatives don’t accomplish increased longevity of the lifespan of clothes like thrift stores.
Throwing clothes away is the least environmentally friendly option because most clothes contain manmade fibers that don’t break down as easily and they release toxic greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane. Smart Guide to Climate Change author Christine Ro makes the point in “Can fashion ever be sustainable?”, that as much as 10% of greenhouse gasses come from human activity. Carry Somers, founder and global operations director of the nonprofit organization Fashion Revolution in an interview for Wbur “The Environmental Cost of Fashion,” notes that “Even extending the life of our garments by an extra nine months of active use would reduce the carbon, water and waste footprint by around 20% to 30% each.” According to the US census, “There are currently more than 25,000 resale, consignment and Not For Profit resale shops in the United States.” Donating clothes to thrift stores is the most convenient way to recycle old clothes.
Textile recycling is when fabrics are collected and then reprocessed into useful products. This process is better than throwing clothes away, but the carbon waste and greenhouse gasses emitted is still much greater than donating clothes to thrift stores. In a study done for MDPI by Toshiro Semba, Yuji Sakai, Miku Ishikawa and Atsushi Inaba titled, Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions by Reusing and Recycling Used Clothing in Japan, the CO2 emissions of clothes that were “reclaimed” or thrifted was only 2.10×109kg. To compare, from the same study it was found that the CO2 emissions from clothes that were used for textile recycling was almost double at 4.01x 109kg. There are thrift stores located in every town across America meaning, there is easy access and common knowledge as to where the closest one is in relation to an individual. If people go to drop off their clothes at a thrift store in their town that’s close enough to them that they can walk to, they wouldn’t even be contributing to releasing carbon emissions from driving a car. According to the EPA the average carbon emissions for a car per year is 4.6 metric tons. To put the carbon emissions of a car into perspective when comparing it to the emissions from textile recycling, there are only about 4100 kilograms in 1 ton. In one year, a car emits about 4.4×106 kg of carbon emission in comparison to textile recycling’s 4.01×109kg.
Recovering the energy used from burning textiles is a way to recycle clothes but doing so raises environmental concerns. A study done for the Royal Institute of Technology, Environmental Assessment of Textile Material Recovery Techniques by Lena Yohannan found that the main benefit of incineration is that textiles don’t need to be separated and the collected waste can be brought directly to the incineration plant. However, when textiles are incinerated in large amounts there is the potential issue that the packed textile particles can leave material about it un-ignited. Incineration of textiles causes negative impacts on the environment because of the ashes, both bottom and fly away in addition to other emissions. It’s also important to note that the study done by Yohannan found that most of the energy being used came from non-renewable energy sources. Yohannan shockingly notes that, “When only considering the combustion of the cotton and polyester content in 1 ton of textile waste, 785 kg of CO2 is found to be emitted.” When you incinerate clothes, plastic is being burned which contributes to the emission of CO2.
After examining other avenues of getting rid of clothes from one’s closet it has been found that donating is the best option. From a convenience standpoint, finding a thrift store is much easier than finding a textile recycling bin or incinerator as they are the most accessible places to drop off old clothes. Textile recycling causes more CO2 emissions than dropping clothes off at a local thrift store. Burning the textiles can create energy that can be reused but it takes more energy to burn the clothes than it makes up for.
Can fashion ever be sustainable? Retrieved May 01, 2021, from Can fashion ever be sustainable?
Greenhouse gas emissions from a typical passenger vehicle. (2018, May 10). Retrieved May 01, 2021, from Greenhouse gas emissions from a typical passenger vehicle.
Semba, T., Sakai, Y., Ishikawa, M., & Inaba, A. (2020). Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions by Reusing and Recycling Used Clothing in Japan. Sustainability, 12(19), 8214. doi:10.3390/su12198214
Young, R., & Hagan, A. (2019, December 03).The environmental cost of fashion. Retrieved May 01, 2021