By Hilary Pham
Every time I walk into an H&M or Forever 21, it feels like I’m walking into an entirely different store. To Myia Esper, a fashion student at SAIC, consumers have shifted to a “see now, buy now” mindset, driven by “instant gratification” and encouraging companies to quickly release new products. This shift in the usual four clothing seasons to “11 or 15 or more” has created a trend of increased purchases and waste (NPR, 2016). A 2015 study found that women wear clothes an average of 7 times before throwing them away (Daily UK, 2015). With more clothes flowing in and out of stores and consumers keeping their pieces after fewer wears, the amount of textiles thrown out each year in America has increased from 7 million to 14 million tons over the last twenty years (Newsweek, 2016).
Throwing away clothes has a significant financial impact not only for consumers but also for governments, and in turn, taxpayers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines, it costs municipalities $45 per ton of waste sent to a landfill (Newsweek, 2016). New York City’s municipality spends $20.6 million to send textiles to landfills and incinerators annually, an expenditure that uses taxpayer money that could be spent on infrastructure or education. Even after clothes are sent to landfills, if the textiles are natural fibers such as cotton or linen, they release the greenhouse gas methane as they breakdown. Synthetic fibers, like nylon or polyester, take hundreds of years to breakdown which will take up spatial resources.
To help curb the environmental and financial effect of fast fashion, try donating your clothes instead of throwing them away. When you donate your clothes, about 10- 20% end up being sold in thrift stores, the other 85% gets either recycled into new textiles and fibers or reused abroad, leaving the last 5% of the fibers to be sent to landfills (Council for Textile Recycling, 2009).
So before you throw away that H&M dress you wore once or buy a new sweater that you don’t think you’ll wear but is really cheap, try donating or thinking twice about the effects your clothes will have on the environment.