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How to Prevent 26 Billion Pounds of Clothing Going to Landfills

September 24, 2018

After learning about how Burberry and other apparel makers have been burning their excess inventory or simply throwing it away, I started to look at the consumer side of things and wondered what was going on with clothes and waste.  
A few interesting facts I uncovered:
  • Americans throw away an average of 81 pounds of clothing a year.
  • 90% or more of this could have been re-used or re-purposed, but 1 in 3 people do not know this.
  • Globally, there are 80 billion new pieces of clothing, and 26 billion pieces go into landfills every year.
  • Fabric that is 100% of a something is best to be used for re-cycling.  Blended items (Poly/Cotton for example) typically can't be separated and re-used - although some recent research may change this capability. This means blends will have limited recycling use, but can still be restored for re-sale or cut into rags for use in blankets, insulation, or other applications. 

Sources: 1, 2


Upon learning all of this, my first thought was: why should we even make more clothes with this much waste going on?

Sustainability, fair trade, transparency, and giving back are core focuses for JOOB. We want to educate and promote smarter use and re-use, but there is also value in organizations like ours that produce new clothing so long as we are looking at the end-to-end life cycle of how best to use clothes through their full life, and beyond.  

So where do we stand? We stand with SLOW FASHION. We won't develop at a furious pace just to have new items for spring and fall like major retailers tend to do - and then throw out, burn, or send to outlets the prior seasons items. Our plan is to introduce new items only if they bring a unique function, style, or material to our customers.  

To that end, it's important for consumers to change their mindset a bit. If we as humans buy 80 billion pieces of clothes and then turn around and throw away 26 billion pieces - clearly something isn't right with our clothing consumption and use process, especially now that we know over 90% of our clothes can be reused in some way. We have to stop living in this throw-away world.  

We propose adopting the following habits to help the environment and make us more efficient users of clothes:

  • If you really need to buy, look at thrift shops that have re-purposed clothes.  Make a habit of shopping at thrift shops - both in your local community and online. You'll find you have quite a few options once you start to look
  • Try to fix the clothes you have. Do you really need to throw away those shirts or pants? Could altering or repairing help? Ask yourself these questions before donating these clothes.
  • Commit to never throwing away clothes. There is no reason to throw away clothes. See the list below for a few organizations that make it easy to drop off clothing. Some companies will even pick up clothes from your doorstep! The recycle rate for clothes should be close to 100%, like batteries. It just needs to become habit.
  • Donate before buying. It's a great habit to donate before you go off and buy more.  

Here are some places you can donate clothes:

For Women and Kids

  • ThredUp - An online consignment shop, ThredUp has 500 people processing bags of donated clothes 6 days a week. They have a standard of quality and typically want specific brands — only about 40% of items in a bag get accepted, but the rest are recycled or donated. They offer payouts for the clothes they accept.
  • Once Upon a Child - Pays cash for gently used children’s clothing, furniture, toys, and other items. Their website spells out the four easy steps needed to get paid for donating your child’s clothes.  
  • Dress for Success - Unemployed, low-income women often lack the funds they need to buy professional clothing for job interviews. Dress for Success provides these women with business attire for their job interviews and a week’s worth of outfits when they find employment. The charity does not pick up donations, but you can find a drop-off location in your area on their website. The site is very particular for what can be donated, so be sure to review it carefully before heading over.
For Men
  • Career Gear - Similar to Dress for Success, but for men.  This organization helps low-income males across a number of initiatives such as literacy training, career development, and professional attire.  The site is particular to what can be donated, so click here for details.  
For Everyone
  • American Red Cross - The American Red Cross has clothing donation drop off points around the country, and also can schedule a pickup for larger clothing donations.  The Red Cross has partnered with GreenDrop - with any funds received from the re-sell of donated items going to fund The American Red Cross.  You can schedule a pick up if you have a very large donation of clothes, or look for a donation drop box.  Note - The Red Cross website doesn’t make it easy to search for clothing drop off locations, but most are probably next to your large grocery store or mall in town.  Or please go to Planet Aid to donate as they take everything (see note on Planet Aid).
  • Salvation Army - This is the organization my wife and I tend to use the most as it has a local presence in Ann Arbor and is easy for us to drop off our clothes and other items.  
  • Vietnam Veterans of America - through the organization called Pickup Please, you can schedule a pickup for your clothes that will go to assist American veterans of all wars, as well as their families.  The organization accepts all types of clothing, from baby sweaters to junior’s dresses to men’s sportswear.
  • Savers - This is a company that has drop off bins and thrift stores across Canada and the US, and takes most clothing items.  Their website has a lot of data on textile waste and the impact their organization is having on re-using clothes. It’s easy to type in your postal code and locate a donation bin or drop off at one of their stores.
  • Find a local thrift shop - Many local communities have a thrift shop that will take clothes and other items.  Doing a simple search on Google will yield great results.


Did we leave any organizations out? Let us know in the comments!

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