It’s Wednesday, and this morning one of those little charity envelopes, containing a large plastic clothes bag, dropped through the letter box. Another kick up the backside to get on with my wardrobe edit! How easy is this method of disposing of unwanted clothing?! All I have to do is put everything I no longer want, need or wear into the bag and take it to the front gate. Bingo – gone by lunchtime! I don’t really mind which charity takes my clothes, although I have ‘favourites’ like everyone else, based on my own life experience (Meningitis Now or Parkinsons UK, please). But if we don’t recycle our clothes, where do they actually go to?
According to an article in The Guardian in April, 235m items of unwanted clothing, from the UK alone, were expected to end up in landfill this year, as a result of our annual wardrobe spring clean. Yes, 235 million… that’s a lot of clothing!
Why don’t we routinely donate our things to charity? Well, according to a report by Sainsburys it seems we can’t always be bothered or we think the items are too old or worn out to be recyclable. (Sainsbury’s 2017)
Over the past decade, clothing has been the fastest growing waste stream in the UK and, globally, the fashion industry is the fifth most polluting industry.
Fast fashion has a lot to answer for. We love to pick up a new top or a new dress for that special night out, or just to feel great at the weekend. (I hold my hands up – a substantial proportion of my current, unedited wardrobe is testament to this!) And the brilliant range of high street shops means that for most people, they can enjoy shopping without blowing a small fortune, on a regular basis. But where do all our old clothes end up?
Our grandparents would have kept items of clothing for at least a decade, if not for a lifetime. I remember the faintly musty, mothballed smell of my own grandmother’s wardrobe, and the beautiful quality fabrics hanging neatly in there. I’m lucky enough to have inherited some of these clothes and I still wear them today.
But a recent report from Wrap (the government Waste and Resources Action Programme) estimates that the average piece of clothing in the UK now lasts for just over three years before being thrown away. Other sources suggest the lifespan is much less than this, especially amongst younger, fashion lovers. (Remember the days when you could buy and wear anything, and you always looked great?!)
For more information about the amount of clothing going to landfill every year, check out Lucy Siegle’s brilliant article in The Guardian, ‘Fashion Must Fight The Scourge of Dumped Clothing Clogging Landfills. She also tells us a bit about the many initiatives that have been set up by shops and charities to help combat the problem. Most of us already know about Marks and Spencers’ ‘schwopping’ scheme, and the collaboration between TK Maxx and Cancer Research UK, Give Up Clothes for Good.
One last thought – did you know that hanging on to an item of clothing for an extra nine to twelve months reduces its environmental impact by 20-30%.
I will be looking into all of this, and more, in future blogs – watch this space!
In the meantime, I have found that my boys’ old cotton pants make great painting rags, and torn old shirts and t shirts are perfect for general cleaning purposes around the house.
As well as dragging that stuffed bag of unwanted clothes out to the front gate (which makes it sound as though I live in a large house in the country, with a meandering pathway to the front door – I really don’t!), I think I will invite a few friends over for a glass of wine and a clothes swapping evening?………And, of course, I still have to start that Wardrobe Edit!