The EPA has estimated that, on average, Americans throw away about 75 pounds of textiles a year, a 750 percent increase over the past fifty or so years. Most of this is clothing, driven by the so-called “fast fashion” industry that produces low cost items at high volume. One study found that some companies could turn around new styles from design to shop floor within two weeks. The same study found that such fabrics are also constructed so that they could typically last for only about ten wearings.
The environmental costs of this pass-through are significant. Many such clothes are made in developing countries where the energy comes from coal. Transportation costs are an issue: quite apart from international transit, the combined annual emissions of FedEx, UPS, and the US Postal Service are equivalent to 7 million cars. A competitive push for faster delivery compounds the problem, requiring more delivery vehicles and more energy-costly warehouses to be closer to customers. The fashion industry as a whole releases more greenhouse gasses than ocean shipping and airlines combined. And then there is the waste toll itself—in landfill volume, the potential for toxic industrial residues and dyes, and the release of microfibers from polyesters into our drinking waters and river systems. Sometimes it pays to spend more on good things and keep them longer.
What we can do:
- Avoid the temptation to try to keep abreast of the latest fashion fad. Buy for the long haul.
- Acquire clothes that can be recycled, reused or repurposed.
- Shuck the catalogues!