How families can reduce clothing waste and help the environment

When Kara Livingston and Nicole Boynton were teenagers, they swapped clothes and shoes. Not only has this essentially doubled their wardrobe, but in their minds, an even bigger benefit: sharing clothes reduces environmental waste.

“Our love of second-hand clothing opened Kara’s eyes to the world of injustice, environmental issues and overconsumption in the fashion industry,” said Boynton, who was quickly drawn to Livingston’s passion.

The now 35-year-old mothers realized that it was too easy for parents to buy cheap clothes for their fast-growing children and that everything was piling up and creating waste. They made this realization their mission and founded Hand Me Up, an online store that sells capsules for children’s clothing, collections of gently worn garments that are easy to mix and match into outfits. The site accepts donations of junk items, and its blog offers families tips on how to live more sustainably, including conducting a clothing swap.

The impact of the fashion industry on the environment is huge, and the issue has received increased attention in recent years. According to a report in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, the industry causes 8 to 10 percent of global CO2 emissions. Technology cannot reliably turn unwanted clothing into fibers that could be used to make new goods, resulting in clothing clogging landfills or ending up in the ocean.

“We wanted to teach our kids why we don’t treat our clothes like they could be worn twice and thrown away,” Boynton said. “Our dream for Hand Me Up is to be part of circular fashion, leaving very little to no textile waste for the next generation,” added Livingston.

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Dianna Kapp said her environmentally conscious children inspired her to write her book. Girls Greening the World: 34 Rebellious Women to Save the Planet. She wanted her children and others to be inspired by female environmental changemakers working to save the planet. While researching her book, Kapp asked Annie Leonard, the head of Greenpeace USA, what to tell young people. Leonard’s simple advice: make sharing cool. “We store clothes for an average of six months or less, shorter than it takes to use up a bottle of ketchup,” Kapp said.

The effects of clothing waste are staggering. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles annually. The EPA estimates that of the 17 million tons of textiles produced in 2018, only 2.5 tons were recycled. As a result, every year, for every five garments produced, three equivalent garments end up in landfill or are incinerated. Plastics like polyester, which are made from petroleum, are not biodegradable and shed tiny plastic particles. The world’s largest floating plastic island, three times the size of France, is made up of 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, some of which contain these fibers that kill thousands of sea creatures annually.

“Droping all your clothes at Goodwill isn’t as virtuous as you think,” Kapp said. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, 80 to 90 percent of donations to charities are sold to recyclers. “We ship a lot overseas, but more and more countries are saying no because we’re ruining their economies by sending cheap garments that undercut anything made locally.”

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The mantra followed by many environmental activists is repair, revitalize, repurpose and declutter. Experts say it’s a great way to reduce clothing waste, especially among children. If a piece of clothing is too small or worn out, parents can give it away, swap it, sell it or repair it.

When thredUP, one of the largest online resale platforms, launched in 2009, one of its goals was to remove the stigma associated with used clothing and inspire a new generation of consumers to think second-hand first. Now, after processing more than 137 million items, their resale report predicts that the US second-hand market is expected to more than double by 2026, reaching $82 billion.

Trade apps like Kidizen, a marketplace for buying and selling children’s clothing, also help parents to live more sustainably. Hand Me Up (Size 0-6) and Upchoose (Size 0-3) charge a monthly subscription fee to trade out outgrown clothing for the next size up. Jackalo focuses on making children’s clothing that lasts longer and offers discounts on used clothing returned through its “TradeUp” program, a formula adopted by other clothing manufacturers. And stores like Kid-2-Kid, a traditional brick-and-mortar store, buy back premium second-hand items that they resell.

Environmentalist Verena Polowy created My Green Closet, a YouTube channel, blog and community to promote capsule wardrobes – a handful of interchangeable clothing items designed to help consumers avoid impulse purchases and change buying habits. “Families don’t wear more than 80 percent of their clothes,” Polowy said. On her website, she offers tips using her family’s capsules as an example.

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Faith Roberson, founder of Organize By Faith, believes the best way to live green is to reduce consumption. She coaches her customers not to overlook their children’s wardrobes in particular. “It’s important for parents to get in the habit of cleaning up before we buy if we’re going to change our buying behavior,” Roberson said. “Parents usually go shopping for their kids at the start of the school season and during the holidays, so clearing out closets around those times is really important.”

Polowy suggests parents have more conversations about how patching can be fun and fulfilling. “Upcycling is a challenge due to the availability of cheaper alternatives. There’s an attitude like, “Why should I spend time and energy mending or sewing when I can buy a new one for $5?” “But she said, ‘I love seeing cute or stylish repair and upcycling tutorials on social media, and the more accessible ideas there are, the more people are encouraged to take up needle and thread.’

The idea of ​​recycling clothes could catch on. Online groups like the Buy Nothing Project and Freecycle have millions of members who trade items, including children’s clothing, to people in their communities for free.

Livingston and Boynton get excited when they talk about reducing clothing waste. “We’ve learned that if our families can make these changes, the whole world can,” Boynton said.

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