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The Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion

The official theme for Earth Day 2024 is "Planet vs. Plastics."  And more people than ever have made individual commitments to reduce and reuse – everything from grocery totes to trendy beverage containers are nearly ubiquitous. But a singular focus on plastics isn’t the only step that individuals and communities can take to combat pollution.

Fast fashion is as bad for the planet as fast food is for your health. Fast fashion culture, characterized by rapid production cycles and disposable clothing trends, perpetuates a cycle of overconsumption and waste.

The fashion industry has been identified as the third most polluting industry. On average, the industry releases 10% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions annually. Americans alone generate 17 million tons of textile waste each year. Millions of barrels of crude oil are used each year to make polyester fiber which is releasing more carbon emissions than cotton and contributing to a large surge of microplastics in the oceans. 85% of clothing and textiles end up in a landfill, even though 95% can be reused and recycled. Locally, Indian River County is unable to accept textiles as part of recycling efforts. Clothing (and other textiles) pose a danger in the local recycling center. According to Susan Flak, Recycling Education and Marketing Coordinator for Indian River County, “[Clothing] gets caught up in the gears at the Material Recovery Facility and has to be manually removed at a danger to employees. [At one point] they had to shut production down so that worker could tether himself and climb into the machine and remove clothing and carpet.” Flak adds, “Other tanglers include Christmas lights, hoses, electrical cords, and carpet.”

If traditional recycling efforts are not an option, what can you do to ease the burden of textiles on our environment?

Donate Unwanted Clothing

Many people donate their worn clothing to a local charity. But what happens to unsold donations? One popular charity, Goodwill, reports that only roughly five percent of clothes are directly sent to landfills. The rest follow a multi-step process which includes Goodwill retail stores, outlets, and then auctions. If those clothes remain, at the end of their journey,  Goodwill sends them to specific textile recycling organizations.

Upcycle Old Textiles

Get creative and repurpose old clothing into new items or accessories. You can transform old t-shirts into tote bags, turn jeans into shorts, create a pillow cover or even a rag rug from an old sweater, turn almost anything into a unique headband, or use fabric scraps for quilting or crafting projects. The ideas are endless and a simple internet search will yield many options.

Organize a Clothing Swap

Let’s be honest, everyone has clothes to donate and everyone wants new clothes! Hosting a clothing swap is a fun way to “recycle” your unwanted items and “shop” for new ones. Simply get your friends together, ask them to bring some clothing items they don’t wear anymore, enjoy some spirits, snacks, and fun together, and, voila, you are instantly being a better friend to the environment.

Embrace Thrifting and Consigning

Thrift shopping and consigning clothing not only save money but also reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions associated with textile production. By shopping at your local thrift or consignment store, you’ll give garments a second life, find some new duds, and contribute to a more sustainable and eco-friendly fashion industry. Plus, consigning can be a great side hustle that may help you earn some extra cash from those unwanted items in your closet.

You have the power to reduce the environmental impact of clothing and fabric through your purchasing decisions and lifestyle choices. First and foremost, adopting a mindset of mindful consumption can make a profound difference.

Invest in quality over quantity. Opt for timeless pieces that endure trends and seasons. By investing in durable garments, you can minimize the frequency of replacing clothing and reduce the overall demand and resources required for production.

When shopping, shop environmentally aware by researching a brand’s ethical sourcing practices and commitment to the environment. By supporting companies that prioritize sustainability and advocate for industry-wide change, you can drive demand for more responsible fashion practices, help reduce the industry's environmental footprint, and contribute to a healthier planet for current and future generations.


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