A little clothing TLC can do a lot to keep ‘textile waste’ out of our landfills

Confession: I didn’t separate my laundry in college. I didn’t even realize the temperature of the water mattered until my roommate, whose mother had instilled good clothes-washing habits in her, scolded me for washing my jeans on a warm cycle. I could probably fake my way through sewing a button on a shirt, but it might not look very good or last very long. I am a product of my generation – a generation with an overwhelming lack of knowledge about clothing maintenance, according to a recent study by the University of Missouri department of Textile and Apparel Management.

That’s right, we Millennials have a serious problem when it comes to clothing care, and it’s a serious problem for our environment, too. The EPA reports that the U.S. generates about 25 billion pounds of textiles each year, and 85 percent of that ends up in our landfills. Much of this can be attributed to the lack of emphasis being placed on clothing care, repair and recycling to young people. Home economics classes are mostly a thing of the past, and many of us didn’t think to learn these basic skills via other avenues.

The good news is that now that this problem is being brought to light, we can do something about it. Taking the time to learn how to properly care for and responsibly dispose of clothes and accessories can save you the money and hassle of buying new things as often and can dramatically decrease the amount of post-consumer textile waste heading into our landfills each year. Here are a couple of easy ways to keep your things from becoming waste as long as possible:

When you can, spring for higher quality. We’ve all heard it a thousand times: They just don’t make things like they used to. Lots of clothes aren’t manufactured to last more than a season in order to keep costs down and fashion dynamic. This creates a lot of unnecessary waste that would be avoided if we all invested in long-lasting, classic pieces to make up our wardrobes. This may mean more money up front, but reduces future spending and means less being thrown away after just a few uses.

Read care instructions on your clothing’s labels. This one seems obvious, but many people simply don’t know how to wash their clothes. Ignoring the wash directions on one’s tags is a common millennial mistake that can be easily avoided, exponentially increasing the life of the item. If your sweater tells you it needs to be washed cold, it needs to be washed cold. Hand-washing doesn’t take that long, and the gentle cycle is a thing that your delicates appreciate. Your sheets are serious when they say, “tumble dry, low heat.” These things are important.

Learn sewing basics. If your favorite shirt gets a hole in it or last year’s winter jacket loses a button, don’t panic or feel the need to replace it right away; repair it! It may seem like a daunting task if you’ve never mended anything before, but many snags and tears are quite easy to fix. Lots of online tutorials exist to help beginners learning to sew, or ask a friend or family member to help you pick up this new and important skill.

Donate or recycle things when you are done with them. Just because you don’t have use for something doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t. Taking your clothes to a secondhand shop is the perfect way to give them new life, and there are a lot of nonprofits who can benefit from your donations. For example, The Hope Center takes donations of men’s clothing, and if you take things to Goodwill or the Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore in the name of Greenhouse 17, they will provide families with vouchers to shop with. If something is irreparable or truly worn out beyond use, recycle it instead of tossing it in the trash. For more information on how to do this, check out the Council for Textile Recycling’s website.

1 macyMacy Gould is the AmeriCorps VISTA member who serves as Bluegrass Greensource’s green jobs coordinator, working with educators to ensure that students are aware of and prepared for the variety of green career paths that await them after high school. Macy is originally from Minneapolis but considers Lexington home and enjoys visiting her family in Colorado Springs. She recently graduated from Transylvania University. Outside of work, you could likely find Macy planning for her community radio show or taking a long walk downtown.

This article appeared in KY Forward on November 13, 2014.

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