5 Easy Ways to Reduce Clothing Waste and Save Money

As clothing manufacturers and governments address waste in both the pre-consumer and post-consumer stages of the global textiles lifecycle, what can we easily do to reduce clothing waste -- and save money?
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With a new season soon upon us and spring cleaning around the corner, I recently decided to survey my closet. I counted over 500 pieces of clothing in my closet and dresser combined, and that's not including my sock and underwear drawers, nor my collection of cold weather scarves. Considering I only wear about 10 to 20 pieces in regular rotation, that's over 95 percent of my wardrobe taking up space, sitting there as wasted clothing and money.

Multiply this by closets around the country, and that may partly be why the United States Environmental Protection Agency reported that in 2012, Americans generated over 28 billion pounds of textile waste in the form of clothing and other household fabrics. Of that, about 15 percent or 4.5 billion pounds were recycled, leaving the rest being sent straight to the landfill. The carbon impact of the portion saved from the landfill alone equaled taking 1.2 million cars off the road per year.

San Francisco recently became the first major city in the United States to set up a wide-scale textile waste reduction program, in partnership with locally-based clothing retailers like Levi Strauss & Co. and The North Face, to combat the 4,500 pounds per hour and 39 million pounds each year of clothing and other fabrics that local residents toss out as trash. As clothing manufacturers and governments address waste in both the pre-consumer and post-consumer stages of the global textiles lifecycle, what can we easily do to reduce clothing waste -- and save money?

Be Part of the Solution

Here are five simple ways to reduce clothing waste and save cash:

1. Shop your closet: A new shirt, dress, or coat can brighten your day, or even buoy you for an entire season. As can the discovery of a forgotten favorite that you already have. Boost your wardrobe - and your wallet - by bringing back into rotation the solid pieces hanging in the back of your closet.

2. Swap it out: Declutter and refresh your wardrobe with a clothing exchange within your circle. The women in my family offer our barely-worn clothes and impulse buys to each other -- from special occasion pieces worn once or twice to everyday items we've never worn after bringing home, it's a chance to swap and sample styles between our varying individual tastes.

3. Dollars and sense: Resell your clothes online on eBay or split the profits with a neighborhood consignment shop. Startups like thredUP both prepay you for items they then resell and also consign higher-end brand pieces, all through their trendy online storefront. They also process children's clothes, for a twist on quickly outgrown hand-me-downs.

4. Rags to riches: Those old bootcut jeans feeling out of style? Your neighborhood tailor can taper them into skinny jeans for a fresh look while saving you the cost of a brand-new pair. Small hole in your sweater? Stitch it up good as new. T-shirts faded? Comfy pajama tops for bedtime. Hopelessly ripped t-shirt? Rag for household cleaning projects.

5. Paper, plastic, fabric: Clothes can be saved from the landfill and recycled similarly to plastics, paper and cans, sorted for further use as secondhand clothes, commercial polishing cloths or reprocessed fibers in upholstery and insulation. In addition to making tax-deductible donations to long-standing organizations with neighborhood collection centers such as Goodwill and Dress for Success, San Francisco residents can deposit unwanted clothing in one hundred different collection bins around the city handled by textile collector and processor I:CO, and New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C. residents can do so in their buildings through bins provided by Wearable Collections. Ask for a bin near you.

Refresh your wardrobe while saving money and contributing to your community. Give one (or all) of these tips a try. What's in your closet?

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