12 Ways To Lower Your Carbon Footprint For Clothes
Every little thing helps, and every effort adds up — if we do it collectively.
With an estimated 80 to 100 billion pieces of apparel produced each year, the apparel industry is saturating the world with clothes — more clothes than we’ll ever need, with dire consequences.
Apart from being responsible for 20% of the world’s industrial water pollution, the apparel industry also generates 92 million tonnes of material waste every year. It’s the equivalent of 4% of the world’s waste.
As clothing brands continue to churn out new micro-seasons of clothes for profit at the expense of the environment, it’s up to us consumers to influence the course of fashion pollution.
Here are 12 ways to stop contributing to fashion pollution, or at least, curb it significantly.
1. Love what you have
When it comes to the negative environmental impacts of clothes, the best action could simply be no action — don’t buy, don’t throw, maintain the status quo.
Most of us have more clothes than we need. If we love what we have, we’re not going to need new clothes unless what we have gets worn out, and we won’t have to be on the lookout for new clothes all the time.
No action required, but it translates to a lower carbon footprint in the long run, and savings. Win-win-win!
2. Consider a capsule wardrobe
Over-consumption is the main reason we’re generating so much clothing waste these days. We buy more than we need, like them less than we thought, and end up with more waste than we expected.
Having a capsule wardrobe not only reduces decision fatigue and helps clean up your wardrobe nicely, but it’ll also cultivate the mindset that you can live well with less. And this mindset will seep into other aspects of your life.
Try it, it’s life-changing.
3. Choose quality over quantity
Have you ever visited vintage clothing shops? I marvel at how good some pieces still look. Clothes were made better back then. That’s why they can last decades and hold their shape.
Clothes of poorer quality aren’t as flattering and often wear out fast. As a result, they don’t have as much value when it’s donated to a thrift store. If you’ve noticed at secondhand stores, the fast-fashion pieces tend to look the most beat up and forlorn. The material and cut just don’t hold up.
My mom is a seamstress and she’s noticed that clothes made these days have done away with a lot of details that make them fit better. That’s what happens when speed and quantity are placed above quality.
Don’t blame the people who made these clothes though, they’re instructed to make them that way, and they probably were rushed.
Choose quality clothes so that they last longer and translate into a lower carbon footprint.
4. Shop Secondhand
Since the market is saturated with clothes as it is, secondhand clothes shops are the best replacement for the clothes shopping experience.
You can find secondhand clothes at vintage shops, thrift shops, pop-up shops selling pre-loved items, even Etsy and eBay.
Besides helping to divert trash away from the landfill, you get to save money too! You’ll be surprised how many gems you can find in the secondhand market. I bought a well-made 80% wool coat at $25 and a maroon leather jacket at $23, but I bet there are even better deals out there.
5. Choose natural fibers
Natural fibers include cotton, wool, linen, silk, hemp, and jute. Though they have varying degrees of carbon footprints, they’re biodegradable and doesn’t contribute to microfiber pollution.
Tiny natural fibers do end up in our water, but because they’re tiny and biodegradable, they get broken down quickly.
The energy requirements for hemp, wool, and cotton are also lower than that of polyester or recycled polyester.
In addition, synthetic fibers such as polyester, acrylic, nylon, and spandex are plastic. They’re made from fossil fuel and are non-biodegradable. Once they’re thrown away, they’ll remain in the landfill for a long time. They’re simply not sustainable materials.
Whether you’re buying something first-hand or preloved, choose natural fiber over synthetic ones.
6. Be picky about the products you buy
We’re consumers, we hold the buying power that decides a companies’ profit. Vote with your money and make companies accountable for their practices.
If you can’t find what you need at secondhand shops, support ethical brands that care about sustainability. Look out for certifications to help you decide if a brand is sustainable.
Whether it’s cotton, hemp, or linen. Organic-certified raw materials are better for the environment. Organic farming is better for the soil crops are grown on, causes less groundwater pollution, and has lesser negative effects on farmers’ health.
In fact, research has shown that organic cotton causes 98% less water pollution than conventionally grown cotton.
To prevent buying from companies that exploit their employees, always choose fair-trade certified products. Apart from preventing unfair wages, fair-trade certification also requires companies to be environmentally responsible too.
Ethical Animal Products
If you’re buying something that came from an animal, be on the lookout for ethical certification. Animal cruelty is rampant in industrial-scale operations and we should prevent that too!
For clothing made with wool and down, there are Responsible Wool Standard and Responsible Down Standard respectively. On the other hand, if you’re at a small farm who produces their yarn ethically, I think it’s fabulous to support them too.
7. Change the way you wash your clothes
- If an item of clothing doesn’t smell and isn’t stained, consider wearing it again
- Wash full loads of laundry for the highest energy and water efficiency. If you’re not sure how much laundry is a full load, read this nifty article
- Wash clothes at cool setting — you’ll cut your energy use by more than 50% than if you use a hot water setting
- Line dry when possible
Not only would you save on water and electricity, and thereby reduce water and carbon footprint, you’ll save money too!
Also, your clothes will last longer when you don’t wash them as often or expose them to high heat from the washing machine and the dryer. These practices help to preserve the color and shape of your clothes.
8. Consider a swap party when you’re done with a piece. Or donate
When you’re done with a piece of clothing, whether because it doesn’t fit anymore, or you got tired of it, don’t toss it! If they’re still in good condition, consider organizing a clothes swap party with your friends.
Otherwise, resell them or donate them to charities.
A word of caution about donation
A lot of our clothes donated to charities are eventually sold to East African countries. Once there, if the quality of the clothes is too poor to be sold, they’re burnt or dumped.
Lately, because we direct such huge quantities of secondhand clothes to them, some East African countries are proposing a ban on the import of secondhand clothes.
If you’re donating clothes, make sure they’re of decent quality — no one wants worn-out or torn clothes. They’ll just end up in the trash. For worn-out or torn clothes, consider repurposing or recycling them.
9. Mend your clothes and wear them out
Extending the lifespan of your clothes is the best way to lower your carbon footprint without going out of your way.
Other than changing the way you wash your clothes to help them last longer (as mentioned above), mending your clothes helps too.
Don’t toss a shirt because its button fell off. Learn to sew buttons and mend tears and holes. Our grandparents used to do it, why shouldn’t we do it too?
Then wear them out, as our grandparents did.
10. Repurpose torn clothes if they can’t be donated
No matter how much we care for a piece of clothing, they’ll wear out someday. When they do, it’s time to get creative!
Worn out cotton shirts make the best rags because of their absorbency — simply cut them into squares. Also, when they get really beat up, you can cut them up and compost the scraps in your backyard. Don’t do that with polyester shirts though.
If you’re crafty, you can turn shirts that are too worn into dish scrubbies, coasters, produce bags, or just use them as rags. I’ve seen people cut up old t-shirts and turn them into cushion covers too.
Old clothes can be recycled into industrial cleaning rags, insulation foam, carpet, and so on. They hardly get recycled into new clothes because it’s a costly and difficult process. Clothes are usually made with blends of material and contain different dyes. These complicate the recycling process.
Even though H&M has a garment collection program, only 0.7% of all the materials used to make their products are recycled material. Recycled polyester produced by the commonly used method of mechanical recycling simply isn’t good enough to be made into clothes.
So, recycling shouldn’t be your default solution. As with everything else, the key to reducing apparel waste is to refuse, reduce, reuse (or donate), then recycle. In that sequence.
Don’t recycle clothes that can still be worn, donate them.
Recycle clothes that are torn, worn or so tacky no one in their right mind would wear it. Solo socks and beat up undergarments can also be recycled too.
Do look up on recyclers near you who accept garments and put these materials to good use.
Apart from H&M, Northface also has a Clothes the Loop program that aims to direct unwanted clothes away from the landfill. Check out the website to find out if they’re collecting in a store near you!
12. Don’t impulse buy
I’ve lost count of the number of times I walked past pretty dresses at fast-fashion shops and been tempted to buy them! They’re priced so that you don’t mind just buying it even if you don’t need it. Well, don’t. You’ll clutter up your closet in no time if you keep giving in to impulse buy.
Fast fashion uses this kind of pricing tactic and constantly refreshed offerings to make us buy more clothes, more often. That’s how its unsustainable business model was created. Impulse buy seems so harmless, but when billions of people take part in it, it has huge repercussions.
The same applies to online shops where they sell cheap clothes without a clear country of origin or material description. Close the damn window.
There’re many ways we can lower our carbon footprint with clothes. Often, we can improve our carbon footprint simply by changing how we treat our things.
As with all things, look beyond the product, and see what goes behind the creation of the product, and what it took to bring it to us. When you do that, you’ll get a better picture of the footprints involved, and it’ll become easier to refrain from partaking in instant gratification.
The price of a piece of clothing, or anything else really, is always more than what’s written on its tag.
Originally published at darkbluejournal.com on September 17, 2019.