Walk to work. Recycle your aluminum cans. Remember your reusable shopping bags. These modern-day sustainability mantras help consumers take small steps every day to lower their environmental footprint, keeping plastics out of the oceans and carbon emissions down. But have we considered the footprint of our clothing — one of the biggest polluters in the world?
Savers’ second annual State of Reuse Report found that people are still perpetuating the linear model of consumption (take, make, dispose) when it comes to their clothing, but there is promising news – one in three people noted they donated more in 2016 than 2015. But, over half of North of Americans continue to throw used clothing and household goods in the trash, leading to 26 billion pounds of textiles going into landfills. In addition to surveying participants on their reuse habits, this year’s report took a special look at what motivates consumers to reuse and recycle their used clothing and household goods, including community and environmental impact.
“Twenty years ago, recycling paper was a novel idea,” said Tony Shumpert, VP of Reuse and Recycling at Savers. “Today, it is second nature for most people. Now, we are trying to get more people to reuse and recycle their clothing. This is a big behavior change, and to make it stick, we need to understand what motivates them to take action.”
While people are still throwing a lot of clothing in the trash can, the fact that 8 in 10 people donated last year shows there is hope. But it might mean adjusting how organizations — including nonprofits and business — motivate people to reuse. The lessons learned from some of this year’s findings not only demonstrate the importance of educating people, but also the need to show people how their donations help those in their community.
While people continue to donate used items, more than half (54 percent) said they are still throwing out their used clothing and household goods. There are a lot of misconceptions around what can be donated or reused. In fact, 62 percent of respondents threw items away because they didn’t think a donation center would take them, and most people didn’t know it was possible to donate torn or soiled clothing.
“While torn or soiled clothing will not be reused, the fiber in these items can be recycled,” Shumpert said. “What is more detrimental is for reusable items to be thrown away because people feel it is an inconvenience to take the time to determine what can and can’t be donated.”
The need for continued education was a recurring theme throughout the report, showing not only a need, but also a desire to better understand what to do with used items that can be reused and those more suitable for recycling.
Lesson Two: People want to see local impact
For clothing reuse, local impact can be seen by the numerous nonprofits that benefit from donations of used items. Seventy-eight percent of people would prefer their charitable giving to benefit a local cause rather than a national cause, and 76 percent consider donating clothing and home goods “charitable giving.”
“As sustainability professionals, we often focus on how we effect change to protect the environment.” Shumpert said. “It is easy to forget that people may not be able to see the global impact of their actions, but if they can see how their donations help local causes, they are more than willing to take action.”
Lesson Three: People feel the need to take responsibility for their clothing footprint
The State of Reuse Report found that 55 percent of people think individuals should be responsible for ensuring their clothing and household goods are disposed of properly. In fact, 57 percent of people support the use of clothing recycling bins in their city, and 48 percent would support special bags or bins in their homes with regular pickups. Interestingly, nearly three of four people said they don’t want these efforts to be government-sponsored. Shumpert sees this as an opportunity for nonprofits and businesses to collaborate with their communities and take action to reduce clothing waste.
Additional third-party research echoes the issues revealed by the State of Reuse Report. In 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that roughly 84 percent, or 26 billion pounds of textiles, go into landfills, yet the Council for Textile Recycling reports 95 percent of worn or torn textiles could be recycled.
To learn more about the Savers State of Reuse Report visit: rethinkreuse.com.