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What happens to your clothes when you throw them away?

What happens to your clothes when you throw them away?
By Elena Picci

On average one person keeps a piece of clothing for a maximum of 3 years. What happenss to these clothes once we put them in the trash bin?

Let’s think back to 5 years ago and ask ourselves: ”What happened to that t-shirt, or those shoes I didn’t want anymore?”.

In modern times, we tend to buy twice as many clothes as we did 10 years ago, keeping each article for only 2-3 years. As a result, each of us throws away 30kg of clothes each year (assessment by EPA office of Solid Waste US).

Why has this number increased this much?

Some common reasons for throwing away clothing are related to damages and fit. However, following the rise of fast fashion, clothes are also thrown away simply because they are no longer fashionable.

What fate befalls our clothes once they are in the trash bin?.
Once an item has been classified as unwanted and put in the trash it becomes ‘’waste’’.
In Europe, waste is typically abandoned or burned. This contributes significantly to climate change.

What happens to your clothes when you throw them away ?
Image on the right credit: Vogue

The fate of clothes thrown away
#1: Landfill

Sad but true.

Clothing that is thrown away usually ends up in landfills, the most common method of waste treatment. According to The Waste Management Hierarchy – a scale that ranks waste management options by their environmental impact – landfill is the most harmful to our planet. 

While decomposing, clothes emit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and Methane gas (CH4), a substance that is is 28 times higher than CO2 in terms of emissions. This is a major global warming problem.Clothes do not biodegrade while in a landfill. An article of clothing could remain there for more than 200 years before decomposing as it is surrounded by (and sometimes made) of plastic.Materials made by petrol such as Acrylic are similar to any other plastic and will not decompose.Chemicals used in clothes, such as the one used to create waterproof material and color dyes, can leach to the ground and cause environmental damage.Keeping clothes out of landfill is highly recommended..

What happens to your clothes when you throw them away?

The fate of clothes thrown away
#2: Incineration

Some Like it Hot!.Depending on the country you live in, some of the clothes you throw away might be incinerated.In Europe, 5.6% of the total waste is burned and transformed into energy. This represents over 80 million tons of waste incinerated to create energy.This waste treatment is considered as a win-win solution as it makes vanish waste while creating steam, electricity or even hot water!So cool right?.Not so fast!Burning your clothes also contributes to global warming. Itemits more CO2 emissions than electricity generated by burning coal.The gas released from burning a piece of clothing can be dangerous for the environment and for human health. Even the most advanced technologies cannot completely avoid those pollutants that contaminate the air..

What happens to your clothes when you throw them away ?
Image on the right credit: Stella McCartney

The fate of clothes thrown away
#3: Is in your hands

‘’Buy Less, Choose Well, Make it Last.‘’ Vivienne Westwood, Fashion Designer. The fate or your clothing is in your hands.To avoid having your clothes incinerated or sitting for 200 years in a landfill, the best solution is to:

#Buy Better

Buy better, buy second-hand items, swap or rent your clothes!Buy clothes you think will stand the test of time.Save clothes from landfills by buying pre-owned clothes here or sustainable basics that will always be in style.

#Choose Well

If you are careful about the material that you choose, you can lower the impact of eventual disposal. For example, some clothes are now made of biodegradable material, so that they will compost when you no longer need them.Resist the allure of fast fashion and Invest in high-quality clothes. They will pay you back in longevity and comfort.

Find your next BASIC piece made from sustainable materials

#Make it last

Repair, sell and donate your clothes to local charities or thrift stores.Shop for brands that offer repair services such as Patagonia.
If you choose to donate, it is important to do so at local points to ensure it doesn’t end up in a landfill.


Re-wearing old clothes is the hottest trend at the moment!
So why would you throw them away?

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