How To Personally Curb Clothes Landfill Overload

clothes landfill

The clothes landfill menace has become a hot debate after the revelation that the volume of clothing thrown away yearly is likely to triple before 2030.

Poor waste management systems and individual recklessness are the main drivers of global textile waste, totaling about 100 million tons, with the U.S. contributing about 20 million tons.

Without the proper empowerment and implementation of sustainable solutions, we’re left to helplessly watch this looming threat unfold right in front of our eyes.

Luckily, textile brands have seemingly taken note and are now trying to turn the tide with some commendable commitment to recycling and enhancing consumer awareness.

You, too, have a responsibility to reduce clothing waste through conscious consumption habits if you really want the earth to remain in fashion.

How is the Clothes Landfill Situation?

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Not looking good, to say the least. To make it even dire, it impacts us on two fronts: environmentally and culturally.

Rather, it’s the environmental aspect that seems to catch the eyes of many, probably because of climate change resolutions reached through top environmental campaigns and the evident aggressive weather phenomenon currently happening even in the most remote tundra biome ecosystems.

Environmental Impact of Clothes Waste

Clothing and textiles currently comprise at least 7% of the total waste in global landfill space.

The predicted increase in clothing waste would mean more greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and landfill overload, exacerbating the climate change issue.

The methane emitted during fabric decomposition is among the major concerns regarding clothes landfills.

Although substantial levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) are also emitted, the consequences of methane may be more catastrophic as it causes 28 times more warming than CO2.

The same toxic gases are also emitted in textile plants during production. In fact, the textile industry is a major contributor to global warming with 1.7 million tons of CO2 emitted annually, 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Textile waste also releases dangerous chemicals and colors that degrade natural resources like water and soil. These old fabrics and dyes are also unsafe for marine life and the ecosystem, eventually disrupting even the human food chain.

Moreover, the textile industry is one of the largest water consumers in production, with the World Resource Institution reporting that just one cotton shirt uses an average of 2,700 liters of water.

You can imagine the amount of water these companies siphon to produce the over 50 million tons of clothing apparel they produce annually.

According to the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action (UNFCCC) companies should pursue science-based Targets or 50% absolute reductions and commit to decarbonization no later than 2050.

However, hitting these targets will be a miracle with the increasing trends of clothes waste and the fast fashion buzz.

The Role of Fast Fashion in Clothes Landfill Waste

clothing thrown away

While the eco concern seems to have fallen out of hand, we’re yet faced with another fast fashion boom that threatens not only the environment but also our culture.

In this age of digital cameras and Instagram, every moment seems to demand some perfection, and the fast fashion niche is raking in dollars out of that. 

The brands in this niche have shifted to more affordable, non-durable garments meant for fewer poses and events than the high-end designs of Gucci, Dior, Louis Vuitton, etc.

This influence has seen the emergence of 52 micro-seasons of fashion annually, contrary to the traditional two seasons (Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter).

Now, the likes of Zara, H&M, Forever 21, Uniqlo, Shein, Mango, and ASOS fashion brands are churning out new clothing in a month and have seen the fast fashion market size grow rapidly in recent years.

The value of the fast fashion market worldwide was worth over 106 billion U.S. dollars in 2022, 122.98 billion in 2023, and projected to reach $142.06 billion in 2024.

In 2027, the global market value of fast fashion is forecast to reach approximately $185 billion.

On the flip side, the number of garments ending up in landfills has soared.

That’s an added problem regarding clothes landfills and environmental pollution, not to mention the increased demand for energy and real concern about resource depletion.

The fast fashion industry has also had these five prominent impacts on the social culture:

  1. Buying culture: Consumers, especially the youth, are now more into buying inexpensive, non-durable, and disposable garments, increasing the number of clothing thrown away and offering incentives for the fast fashion industry.
  2. Peer pressure: The constant emergence of new fashion every week pressures consumers to keep up with the constant trends, drastically reducing the lifespan of clothing and increasing the turnover and, of course, more waste.
  3. Falling cloth utilization: With the increased turnover in the fast fashion niche, consumers may not utilize the new clothes fully nor have time to try the recycled ones, increasing clothes landfill waste and knocking the stuffing out of textile businesses committed to recycling and sustainability.
  4. Labor exploitation: The increased demand for inexpensive clothes and the requisite quick turnaround have seen garment workers receiving low wages, working long hours, and under poor conditions.
  5. Social inequality: Major brands dominate the fashion market, making competition hard for indigenous crafters with no resources or exposure. Besides, exporting used clothing to developing countries is fuelling their reliance on our output, which is a disadvantage for local textile industries.

What Can I Do To Address the Clothes Landfill Menace?

You have several options at the individual level to counter the threat presented by clothes landfills, and thankfully, some of these also offer economic benefits.

The first and most crucial measure to curb the increasing amount of clothes waste is to inhibit uncontrolled garment production.

You can reduce the number of clothing purchases to drastically reduce the garments that end up in your garbage can in the long run. Besides, having less clothing will offer ample time to use what you already have.

If you must buy clothing, consider secondhand garments from local thrift stores or online to reduce clothing waste and save a dime.

Such a buying culture will strain fast fashion brands and make them consider recycled content products.

Luckily, textile brands are now embracing recycled content products, which can be a game changer if you opt for the same. Consequently, there will be demand for recycled textiles and incentives for the companies to keep it up.

Recycling textile keeps materials out of landfills and incinerators, reducing the demand for virgin fibers and extending the life of existing ones.

Companies like Patagonia, Madewell, and The North Face are shifting to polyester from recycled materials and sustainably grown cotton.

In particular, the VF Corp (VFC), parent company to brands such as The North Face, Timberland, icebreaker, and Smartwool, will use 100% renewable energy across owned-and-operated facilities by next year.

Patagonia also boasts of the “Worn Wear” stores where customers can trade secondhand Patagonia goods for incentives.

The Madewell Company also partners with the Blue Jeans Go Green program to use materials from jeans garments to build homes. Buying and recycling your clothes through these and other eco-friendly textile companies will encourage them to pursue the course, reduce the number of clothing thrown away, reduce pressure on landfills, and make the planet safer for current and future generations.