Many resources get consumed in the production of clothing and textiles around the world. One of these resources is water, which is used for growing cotton, dyeing fabrics, and other parts of the production process.
Scope of the Issue
Clothing consumption has increased significantly in recent years. According to the World Resources Institute, for every one person there are 20 items of new clothing made each year (http://www.wri.org/blog/2017/07/apparel-industrys-environmental-impact-6-graphics) .
The average person purchases 60% more clothing and keeps each item half as long as people did in the year 2000 (https://www.thebalance.com/textile-recycling-facts-and-figures-2878122).
Why should you care about clothing waste?
Cotton is a common fiber in many clothes and is one of the most water intensive crops. For every cotton t-shirt it takes 2700 liters of water to make (https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/the-impact-of-a-cotton-t-shirt).
Producing clothes both consumes and pollutes water. 20% of the world's industrial water pollution can be linked to clothing production (https://www.nrdc.org/issues/encourage-textile-manufacturers-reduce-pollution). Chemicals added to the water can be toxic or carcinogenic, and chemicals used to grow cotton (and other natural fibers used in fabric) can still be clinging to a clothing item after production. In a world where clean, usable, drinkable water can be scarce this is a huge problem.
Man-made fibers also have an ecological impact. Polyester, a plastic petroleum-based material has a huge carbon footprint, releasing 706 billion kg of greenhouse gasses in 2015 (http://www.wri.org/blog/2017/07/apparel-industrys-environmental-impact-6-graphics). Tiny pieces of this fiber also come off clothing whenever they are washed, becoming microplastics that eventually make their way to the ocean.
There is plenty that you can personally do to reduce clothing waste. A large part of being environmentally conscious is what and how much we choose to consume.
The easiest way to reduce waste is to buy less and make your clothes last as long as possible by taking care of and repairing them. Be conscious with every purchase and think about choosing items that you need and will wear many times.
The second best way to reduce waste is by purchasing secondhand clothes instead of new ones. There are several local thrift and consignment stores in the Pullman area including Palouse Treasures Thrift Store, the Thrift Shop, Lily Bee’s Consignment Shop, and Palouse Thrift. In Moscow one can find secondhand clothes at The Storm Cellar, Goodwill, and The Hope Center.
Another way to be more environmentally conscious is by buying from environmentally friendly brands, stores, and websites. As a consumer we speak through where we put our money. Research which brands have taken steps to reduce their water usage or carbon footprint and use sustainable practices. Then show them that you approve of their choices by purchasing from them. If there is an economic incentive for corporations, they’ll be more willing to change their practices to be in line with our values.
After clothing is in your possession you can still take steps to reduce your ecological impact. One way to do this is to sell and donate to secondhand stores. However, it is useful to know what will likely to happen to items after you have parted with them so you can choose the best way to find them another owner.
What happens to items often depends on the type of place to which you are selling or donating. Because of this, it is best to do some research about what the places available to you do with their items. For example, consignment stores work very differently from Goodwill locations.
On average, a small amount of used clothes go for sale in the store, while the majority gets recycled, sent to a landfill, or sent as charity to other countries. The latter practice has recently been questioned, as many say it does more harm than good by filling a nonexistent need and suffocating local textile industries. Here are links to a few articles discussing this issue:
Instead of giving away unwanted clothes, you can also repurpose them at home. My favorite thing to do with old shirts that are in too poor condition to be donated is to rip them to pieces and repurpose them as cleaning rags. Here are some links that I suggest to find other ways to repurpose old clothing:
If you don’t have the time or inclination to try any ideas from the links above, don’t fear!
WSU’s Water Resources Club is hosting a clothing swap event this Tuesday, March 27th in Chinook 150 from 5-7pm. This event's purpose is to raise awareness of how water is consumed in the textile industry, and to provide a way for WSU students to easily refresh their wardrobes. Bring your used or unwanted clothing to exchange. Don’t have clothes to exchange? Don’t worry! For $2 you can buy 1 ticket. Formal dresses are 3 tickets, jeans and jackets are 2 tickets, and anything else is only 1 ticket to exchange. Please come out and support the Water Resources Club!
~Written by Environmental Science Club and Water Resources Club Member Caitlyn Chilinski