Plastic-Free Living: Reducing textile waste at home
When I read the controversial headline “Clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world” I knew I had to investigate. This statement relates to the impact of the dyeing process on water quality, but other figures relating to the fashion industry as a whole are no less shocking. According to reports, in Australia the average person wears one piece of clothing only 7 times before chucking it out. It is astonishing, but thinking about it I must admit, I was no different a few years ago.
We are consuming textiles at the fastest rate ever. Not having an insight into the complicated manufacturing processes involved in the clothing market, buying items cheap and the influence of social media and advertisers constantly delivering the same message – buy new / be new / be happy. Clothing became just as single-use as coffee cups. The amazing documentary The True Cost gave me a better understanding of the process and made me tear up at the impact of the industry on people, as well as the planet.
Here are my ways of reducing textile waste and some further information about the polluting effects of clothing.
I decided back in January 2017 that from the 1st of February I wouldn’t be buying any clothing (or beauty) items for myself for a year. Initially I wanted to set a month as a target, but I felt strong and went for a whole year. I have to say the first few months were really hard. I was so used to getting myself something small every other week. Online shopping or just wandering into stores during lunch time was something I used to do a lot. I had to resist temptation.
The best ways I found were resisting clicking on adverts and not setting foot in clothing shops. I stopped browsing fast fashion websites, deleted my apps and went for a walk during my lunch break instead. I started to feel so much better month after month, not spending time, energy and money looking for items I could buy but didn’t really need. It helped (and is still helping) me focus on what I already have and to make it work. Since the challenge, I have bought only a few pieces and am happy with the items I have.
Second hand clothes
Before kids I was already into eBay and got some of my clothing from there. I set up filters to alert me when items got listed when I was looking for something specific. These filters were along the lines of ‘size 10-12’, ‘stripy’, ‘dress’ and added 10-15 brands I liked. Every week I had dozens of results and could pick the one I liked, usually for very cheap.
Also, is it just me who loves the thrill of bidding? I also got into buying children’s items from charity shops as well as getting hand-me-downs from friends and family. I usually pop into our local charity shop, once or twice a week to look through the kids’ section. Most of the time I have to leave good quality, high street big brand items behind, knowing my kids are not actually needing more. But there is always lots to choose from.
Mend and fix
I remember in school we were taught how to mend and fix clothes. I don’t know if it is still in the curriculum but I think it should be. I am not great at it but I know the basics. It’s not rocket science and while some clothing may become too damaged to fix at home, most items just need a little attention and they are good to go for years to come. I also find fixing clothes very relaxing.
Opting for ethical companies
Whilst I applaud companies making a conscious effort to be more sustainable, I still approach them with caution. Green-washing makes it hard to navigate which ones are truly here to put planet and people first over profit. I do my research and am vigilant about any ethical clothing before purchasing. For me, the message still stands even with ethical companies - “buy less”.
Natural fibre over synthetic
All synthetic fibres (nylon / polyester etc.) release microscopic plastic after every wash. These tiny plastic particles could then end up in the oceans and ultimately in our food chain and our body. Natural fibres include cotton, linen, silk, wool, cashmere, hemp, jute and bamboo. Choosing to buy clothing made from these natural fibres could be a step in preventing these plastic microfibers entering our water systems. You can also buy bags to put your clothes in before you wash them to catch the microplastic fibres.
Washing less and hang to dry
Washing machines not only use up energy, costing us money, but they can damage our clothes making them last a shorter amount of time. Checking labels, washing on a low temperature and only when the item is really in need of a wash can reduce your consumption of clothes. I usually stain wash clothes with a wet cloth if otherwise they are clean or hang them out in the sun to kill the bacteria that causes odour. I don’t use a dryer but hang all our washing to dry which reduces energy use while also maintaining fabric integrity for longer.
Rehome or recycle unwanted items
We donate all our unwanted clothes to local charities or take them to textile recycling collection boxes. In landfill, the decomposing clothes release methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. Synthetic fabrics like polyester and lycra can also take hundreds of years to biodegrade.
Things I’d tell my 20-year-old self
Stop buying 2 pairs of jeans per week and tons of tops, you end up giving them away with the labels still attached to them years later. Looks and appearance is not what life is all about. The type of person you are and the type of partner / friends you keep, will like you for being you, not the things you wear. Your future partner won’t be looking at your wardrobe to see if you have enough outfits for 2 weeks, so you won’t be going on a date in the same dress. Just focus on who you are and who you want to be as a person. Save the cash and travel more.
Dora Botta is a London based mum of two and freelance writer, blogger. She is passionate about encouraging others to live a sustainable and low impact lifestyle. She also shares tasty and easy vegan recipe ideas. She is non-judgy and honest about her journey with all the wins and the fails. You can read more about her day to day life on Instagram @mamoradiary or her blog.