Underground, overground: how to save your clothes from landfill

Vicky Walker unpacks how you can be part of the solution to the landfill issue.

Is there any topic more exciting than landfill? Go on, have a minute to ponder. Deep, dark caverns bursting with all manner of detritus; discarded items piled high on expansive rubbish tips, no longer wanted or needed by… wait, is that your favourite t-shirt? The one that saw you through festivals and camping and holidays, now dumped and forgotten? You might have given some thought to how it came to exist – how far it had travelled before you bought it; whose hands had made it; how much they had been paid – but what about how long you’d had it before it stopped being your favourite and what would happen to it then?

Recent reports suggest 235,000 tons of clothing in the UK will end up in landfill in this year’s wardrobe spring cleans. Clothes that could still have a useful life in some form. Clothes Aid estimates around £140 million worth of wearable clothes hit landfill each year in the UK alone, that’s 30% of our unwanted clothing taken out of circulation permanently and dumped.

In a recent survey, rather than reusing or recycling, 75% of people surveyed admitted they would throw away old and unwanted clothes rather than recycle them or take them to a charity shop, often through not knowing about the alternatives.

49% didn’t know clothing in any condition could be recycled.

So what can you do to avoid being part of the landfill problem? (you know your t-shirt would thank you…). Here are some ideas, facts, and statistics you might not know that could make you think again when your t-shirt is no longer your fave:

Make it live longer! Reports suggest that if the average life of clothing was extended by just three months, it would reduce by five to ten percent their carbon and water footprints. Do you have clothes you’re throwing away too quickly?

Take care of what you’ve got. Learn how to look after your clothes so they look good and last longer. For handy tips on how to wash, dry, iron and repair garments, look at the Love Your Clothes website.

Clear out the cupboards. Apparently more than 60% of us have unwanted clothes and textiles lurking at home. It’s reported the average woman in the UK has unwanted clothing worth £285 somewhere at home. Why not sort out what you don’t use anymore and see where else it could be helpful? Could it be donated or reintroduced into your wardrobe?

Investigate which retailers are investing in clothing and fabric recycling. Some supermarkets and high street stores are stepping up their efforts to create a more sustainable supply chain. Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencers, and H&M all have projects worth reading up on, ranging from recycling points in stores taking clothing in any condition, to technical developments to extend the life of fibres for future garments, to rewarding sustainability developments.

Swap it up! Bring back swishing parties where everyone brings good condition items they no longer wear to swap with others, look for local clothes exchanges, and new initiatives to repurpose old clothes. At the more innovative end of the scale are small companies leasing jeans for a year before they’re cleaned up and reworked for a new owner!

Do the capsule challenge. If you’ve had a big spring clear out, what have you kept? Do you have a clever capsule wardrobe that will see lots of life and wear? Research ethical fashion bloggers who’ve recorded their own journeys in maximising the life span of either specific items of clothing or reduced their wardrobe to just a few key items.

Save for what you love. Moving away from the ‘Fast Fashion’ culture of buying quick, cheap items to items that will have a longer life. Saving up and investing rather than buying little and often. Think about what you can buy as vintage or from charity shops that may have only been worn a few times or not at all, versus what you might want to buy new (jersey and intimate items, for example).

Look out for Recycle Week! This year it runs from September 25th to October 1st. Expect lots of tips and initiatives on what to do with items you can’t use any more.

Shop diversely, if you’re going to buy new things. Near me are an array of ‘end of line’ shops. Racks of ex-high street clothing sold on from its original owners at the end of the season, now with identifying labels removed and on sale for a few pounds rather than lots and lots. Items that would potentially end up as casualties of fast fashion getting a new (slightly anonymous!) life. Even wedding dresses and ball gowns find their way there.

Find out about local recycling. Who takes what and in what condition. A lot of items sent to landfill can still be used if they’re recycled. The common perception of items being too worn out or grubby to be useful isn’t correct. And there’s a gender difference too: while women are more likely to have more clothes, they’re also more likely to recycle them or dispose of them responsibly. 82% of men surveyed said they would be throwing items in the bin compared to 69% of women.

With a few simple steps, a little research, a changed attitude to what you keep and where it goes when you choose to say goodbye, it’s easy and rewarding to be part of the solution to the landfill issue.