One of the many charms of Humboldt County is the environmental awareness and commitment of residents. Step in to a local boutique and you’re bound to see an item that has been upcycled from another product. These efforts are profoundly vital to our welfare. Although most Humboldt County residents drink from reusable water bottles and throw their recyclables into the proper bin, there is still something more sinister thwarting our efforts to reduce waste.
Not too long ago I stepped into a thrift store with a bag of clothes. I felt proud to not have thrown them out and to be helping those who need clothing in good shape. But to my dismay, I was turned away. That day I spent a few hours being turned away. No thrift store or secondhand store needed my clothing. They were already too overwhelmed with the amount of clothing they had. A few discussions and a quick internet search later, and I discovered that many thrift stores have to throw out clothing. They either cannot sell them or the clothes are too worse for the wear. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that in 2018, 13 million tons of clothing and footwear were generated and of that, only 13% was recycled or reused. More than 9 million tons ended up in landfills and the rest was combusted.
What can we do to prevent this waste? First, it is important to avoid throwing away your textiles. Consider reusing the item for cleaning rags or deciding whether or not it can serve another purpose for you. If it can serve another person, then thrift stores are a great option. To avoid my blunder, call ahead and make sure they need clothing and/or shoes. Depending on the condition of your garments, consider selling on applications like thredUP or websites like eBay or craigslist. Asking friends and family is another great way to get more life out of your garments. I, for one, have spent most my life in hand-me-downs from my more fashionable sisters. If you’re taking a trip to a shopping mall to refresh your wardrobe, bring along your old clothes because companies like Levi’s, The North Face, and H&M take back clothing from any brand, not just their own, and will even give you a discount on your next purchase as a reward. These companies do the leg work for you, they sort through the clothes and decide what can be thrifted, recycled, or upcycled. Levi’s will even take shoes and H&M will take any textile, even sheets. Visit consciouslifeandstyle.com for an even larger list of companies with take-back programs for textiles.
Another important step in reducing the environmental impact of the fashion industry is to shop consciously. Take a minute to do a little research before purchasing a garment or pair of shoes from a company. Does the company have sustainable practices? Are they using post-consumer materials to make their clothing? If buying online, check to see if they have recyclable packaging materials. If not, many companies have an on-line feedback form to make this request. Recently, there has been a significant upsurge of companies creating garments and shoes from recycled materials. Adidas, Everlane, Allbirds and the Girlfriend Collective are all producing shoes and garments from plastic water bottles. Locally, Tauj & Company, based out of Arcata, is creating comfortable clothing out of discarded plastic bottles and post-industrial scraps of nylon, according to their Instagram page. Humboldt County also has a large number of secondhand stores with some even offering more high-end products for the environmentally conscious fashionistas out there. Remember that the more consumers buy from companies with strong environmental commitments, the more it will sway others to follow the same practice. At the end of the day, they want to make money. Selectively boycotting or supporting their products is a great way to start the process of change. Reducing the amount purchased, taking good care of your items and renting items that you know you will hardly use, will also lead to less waste.
Our clothes washing practices also impact the environment. Many laundry detergents come in large, plastic containers that end up in the landfill. Consider buying concentrated laundry soap that comes in much smaller containers. Recently, many companies have started selling laundry detergent sheets that come in recyclable cardboard boxes. The sheets not only produce a great amount of soap for washing but also do not contain harmful chemicals that can end up in our waterways. Earth Breeze, Kind Laundry and TruEarth are some examples. Dryer sheets are made from synthetic polyester and cannot be recycled, also adding to landfills. There is evidence that they release harmful chemicals. Reusable wool dryer balls are a great alternative to prevent static, create softness and decrease dryer time. A lot of our clothes are made from synthetic material such as polyester. It’s best to purchase natural fibers such as cotton, hemp or wool if possible. However, these garments tend to be more expensive. If buying synthetic clothing, consider also purchasing a washing bag or a microfiber laundry ball that catch plastic microfibers from your clothing before they can pollute the water. Another great option is to install a microfiber filter into your washing machine. A recent study by the EPA estimated that the U.S. and Canada release 878 tons of microfibers into the environment from wastewater a year, and this is after the water has been treated.
As always, when growing numbers of consumers choose environmentally conscious products it influences the marketplace and other companies will change their practices to offer more environmentally sound options.