When doing your spring cleaning, you may decide to throw out all of your dingy t-shirts, those shoes covered in holes, and jeans with worn out knees. You may have thought about donating them had they been in better shape, but who would want them besides the garbage dump? A fair question, but the more important one to ask is: what kind of environmental price do we all pay for throwing clothes in the garbage?
The answer is: more than you might imagine. Fortunately, companies around the world have begun to hire the brightest minds, including online university graduates, to help re-design their clothing with the environment in mind. These companies are reducing their impact on the world after the fashion trends end, and there are ways you can help recycle old clothing, too.
Companies have been making leaps and bounds in an effort to 'go green'. The Dutch shoe company OAT, for example, features shoes made of canvas and cork that are biodegradable. But that's not the cool part; what makes their biodegradable shoes really special are the seeds inside. Once the shoes wear out, they can be planted, and will eventually grow into trees. Thus, instead of sending them to a landfill, you can plant the shoe in your garden. How green is that!
The Japanese have also found a way to recycle used clothing. Women have started donating their old bras to companies like Wacoal, which then take the metal from the underwire and make solid fuel. Donated bras have already created 17.9 tons of fuel, and it could start catching on in other places with just a little bit of education. The more readily available recycling programs are, the more inclined consumers will be to use them.
Another company that has started recycling fabric and educating the public about environmental awareness is the outdoor gear company Patagonia. A California-based company, they take your old outdoor gear and reuse it to make new gear. By encouraging consumers to donate to local charities and reusing donated clothing, they have already taken back 45 tons of clothing and recycled 34 tons into new clothing since 2005. If every company were like that, no textiles would be left in landfills!
But what can you, as an individual, do to help? With a quick internet search, you can learn how to 'upcycle' your old clothing into something useful for your household. Freeneedle offers over 130 links to websites that offer tutorials for bringing old garments back to life. Whether it's turning t-shirts into bedskirts, making your baby a bib out of denim, or simply scrapping fabric into dust cloths, every garment can live a second life outside of the landfill.
In the United States, the EPA reports that over 12.7 million tons of textiles are made each year, and only about 1.9 million are recycled. But that doesn't mean it has to stay that way. Eventually, as more programs become available, the environmental impact from textiles will shrink.
People are becoming more creative and crafty about recycling every day, and it's now easier than ever to save money doing it. Choosing 'go green' companies and taking initiative will influence others around you to do the same, so spread the word.