It all begins with a t-shirt: Why you should recycle your clothes


Environmental Friday

Claire Hilbrecht

It is time we face the cold, hard truth. We are running out of water.

“But how can that be,” you may ask, “when the majority of the Earth is covered in water?” While that may be true, freshwater only makes up 1 percent of the Earth’s water supply, and sources of freshwater are depleting quickly with overuse and climate change.

That’s why you’ve probably heard over and over again that you should conserve water—common recommendations are to turn the faucet off when you’re brushing your teeth, take quicker showers, and don’t run the dishwasher if it isn’t full. Those are all good water-saving strategies, but what else can we as college students be doing?

The answer to that question is clothing. The fashion industry is the third largest user of freshwater in the world. According to Planet Aid, This industry uses 2 percent of all freshwater extraction around the globe, and this number is estimated to grow exponentially. Clothes are obviously very important in our culture, but we have to ask ourselves how many new clothes we really need. Is the cute shirt you see in the storefront window really worth the 700 gallons of water it required to produce it?

The average American throws away 82 pounds of clothing per year. When we do this, we are wasting materials that could be re-purposed. We are also contributing to the greenhouse gas effect, as textiles decompose in landfills to form methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. The chemicals and dyes in clothing also leach out of the materials as they decompose and can contaminate soils and water supplies.

Luckily, there is a pretty accessible solution to this issue: recycle your clothes! There are several companies in Lexington that buy and sell used clothes, such as Plato’s Closet and Clothes Mentor, as well as donation-based companies like Goodwill. Selling or donating your clothes to one of these companies is a great alternative to sending them to a landfill, plus you might even make some money. An even simpler solution is handing down your old clothes to friends or roommates.

At my house, my roommates and I have a box of clothes in our common area filled with items that we want to give away, and each roommate takes or adds clothes as she pleases. It saves us money, we don’t have to go far to shop for new clothes, and it is a sustainable alternative to shopping at conventional stores. As the seasons are starting to change, and you start to trade your tank tops for sweaters, now is a perfect time to go through your clothes and maybe even construct a donation box with your own roommates. 

With freshwater supplies quickly depleting, it really is time we start making more sustainable changes to our lives. While it is inevitable that we use our freshwater for drinking and cleaning, using so much of this valuable resource to produce new textiles is quite frankly irresponsible. There are better options for allocating our global supplies of freshwater. It all starts with a t-shirt.