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Ask EcoGirl

A syndicated eco-advice column
Written by Patricia Dines

"Encouraging the eco-hero in everyone!"

"Making it easy to be green!"

This Month's Column:
Keeping Your Clothes Out of the Trash

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Keeping Your Clothes Out of the Trash

By Patricia Dines
Published in the Sonoma County Gazette
January 2014
(c) Patricia Dines, 2014. All rights reserved.

Dear EcoGirl: I have a bunch of old clothes that I don't need. How can I keep them out of the landfill? Signed, Marc

Dear Marc: Thanks for your great question. Yes, the production of our clothes impacts our environment and health in many ways, so it's important that we make full use of each item.

Sadly, though, Americans throw out 85% of our clothes and textiles, trashing 13 million tons a year. This makes up 5% of our country's overall solid waste.

Key terms to know

So how can we divert our clothing from the garbage? First, let's look at three key words to know in this conversation:

• Reuse: When your item is kept in its original form, i.e. a shirt goes to a new owner.

• Upcycling: When value is added to your item, i.e. someone turns an everyday shirt into a creatively expressive shirt.

• Downcycling: When your item loses some of its embedded value, i.e. a shirt is treated as just fiber and we lose the resources used to make it a shirt. Most "recycling" is actually downcycling.

So my advice is to first look for ways to reuse or upcycle your items, before downcycling/recycling them.

Developing your system

So how do we put this into action? Here's the system I developed for myself; it helps me aim for full use via easy habits in my everyday life.

STEP 1: Setup labeled boxes. I have four major categories:

a) Repair. I split this into boxes labeled "Repair by me," "Repair by another," and "Repair for giveaway." (A flawed item usually won't be sold for reuse.)

b) Grubbies. I put damaged clothes that aren't worth repairing here. Then they're ready for me to wear for grubby tasks.

c) Rags. If damaged clothes don't fit in the first two categories, but are good rag material, I cut them into usable pieces and put them in my Rag box.

d) Giveaway. I put both nice and damaged items here.

Note: My Grubbies box is attractive and in my bedroom. The rest are cardboard boxes in my garage. Computer-printed box labels help this all stay orderly.

STEP 2: Regularly process the system.

a) Sort clothes into the boxes above.

b) Repair items, or drop them with an expert. So you might sew on a button, fix a hem, or replace the heel of a shoe.

c) Look for ways to upcycle or creatively reuse your discards. This can include shortening a skirt or making jeans into shorts. You can make bigger changes with damaged items, say by turning a t-shirt into a produce bag, a sock into a hacky sack, or gloves into wrist warmers. Clothes might also be converted into a pillow, apron, iPad cover, pet bed, wine gift bag, toy, woven rug, or quilt.

For lots of inspiring ideas, just Google "reuse"+ your item type, such as "reuse blue jeans." See wearable art inspiration at www.etsy.com/shop/katwise. Or find a local fabric artist seeking donations. (Please let me know if you are one!)

d) Sell or donate clothes.

• Damaged items. Ask your local animal shelter if they'd like old sweaters, sweatshirts, sheets, towels, blankets, etc. You can also drop damaged items at a thrift store if it distributes into the textile recycling stream. For instance, Goodwill bales and resells all kinds of cloth, even torn, as long as it's not smelly or moldy. In our region, it diverted three million pounds of textile discards overall in FY2013.

•Nicer items. You can offer these to friends or sell them through yard sales, craigslist, or consignment stores. Or bring them to a clothing swap (see LITE Initiatives, www.liteinitiatives.org). I also donate professional clothing to Goodwill's Yolanda site (marked for "Clothes Closet"); they're then offered to financially-disadvantaged job seekers.

I use options like these before donating nice items to thrift stores, to increase the odds that they'll be reused. Thrift stores receive many more items than they can sell, and the textile recycling system usually sends wearable clothes overseas, where it can supplant local clothing makers, or be downcycled as rags.

STEP 3: Reduce future clothing discards. The earth can't sustain our high rate of consumer product throughput. So buy fewer clothes of longer-lasting quality, and buy used. Also choose organic and fair trade clothes, to reduce the harm to people and planet, and support the folks taking care of our world and future.

For more information and resources, see www.patriciadines.info/EcoGirl7d.html. [That's this page!] And please feel free to share your projects and ideas with me.

 • • •

Ask EcoGirl is written by Patricia Dines, a freelance writer who's been specializing in empowering constructive action for the earth for over 20 years. She's the author of a wide range of articles and periodicals, including seven editions of The Organic Guide (innovative San Francisco Bay Area organic guidebooks). She's also the editor and lead writer for The Next STEP newsletter ("your handy guide to less-toxic living"). Find out more about her work at www.patriciadines.info.

 • • •

Hi all - Please let me know if the ideas in this column are helpful to you. It's always great to hear what works for folks! You can also email your questions about going green to <EcoGirl [at] AskEcoGirl.info> for possible inclusion in future columns.

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"EcoGirl: Encouraging the eco-hero in everyone."

© Copyright Patricia Dines, 2007-2014. All rights reserved.


 • Lots of blue jeans projects (some of which could be done with other materials). www.pinterest.com/ijdarla/craft-blue-jeans-reused. Projects there include turning blue jeans into a skirt, apron, purse, potholder, placemat (with the napkin and silver going in the pocket), pillow covers, slippers, iPad cover, journal cover, wreath, art caddy box (with the pockets on the sides for more storage), pet bed, wine gift bag, and more.

• Step-by-step instructions for taking apart jeans and using each part. http://bit.ly/1dsP1nx

• Creative ideas for reusing old clothes at the end of their cycle

• "Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry," by Luz Claudio, Environ Health Perspect. 2007 September. A helpful summary of fashion's eco-impacts, with links to key studies and resources. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1964887

• "25 Shocking Fashion Industry Statistics," by Melissa Breyer, September 11, 2012

• BOOK: Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth L. Cline

• Ten Simple Tips For a More Ethical & Sustainable Wardrobe. A helpful page from the author of Overdressed. www.overdressedthebook.com/where-to-shop

FILM: T-Shirt Travels. Shows us where our clothes go after we donate them, and the unintended negative consequences that can have for the cultures that receive them.

• AN ECO-CLOTHING SOURCE: Indigenous, Sebastopol CA. A wonderful eco-clothing option (and they're local!). The offer natural and organic fibers; environmentally-friendly dyes; beautiful eco-fashion; fair trade wages and artisan cooperatives.www.indigenous.com and www.facebook.com/IndigenousDesigns

• "Eco-Clothing Direct: Wear the change you want to see in the world," by Patricia Dines, North Bay Bohemian, Nov. 26, 2008. For savvy local eco-shoppers, one of this season's special delights is Indigenous Designs' holiday warehouse sale, offering significant discounts on Indigenous' beautiful, handcrafted, fair trade, organic and natural-fiber clothing. This column goes behind the scenes to learn more about this idealistic company and its successful journey. www.patriciadines.info/GZ112608.html

• "There Are Toxics In My Clothing?!", by Patricia Dines, The Next STEP newsletter, Sept/Oct 2012. Even though I've worked on toxics issues for many years, I didn't really realize until fairly recently that toxic chemicals could be in my own clothing &emdash; and in noticeable amounts! www.healthyworld.org/GRAPHICS/STEP/stepvol12no5.pdf


Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle (Implementing Those Key Notions in Our Real Lives)


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For more information on related eco-topics, see my other Ask EcoGirl columns.


Ask EcoGirl is written by Patricia Dines, Author of The Organic Guides, and Editor and Lead Writer for The Next STEP newsletter, which gently educates readers about toxics and alternatives. For more information about my work for the planet, see www.patriciadines.info

Sign up for my low-volume writing announcement list (1-3 emails a month), to get emails when my new print articles are published, at www.patriciadines.info/EList.

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I hope that you find this information useful. I welcome your throughts and feedback! (You can email me at info [at] askecogirl.info.)

Editors: Please contact me if you'd like to publish any of these articles in your periodical, or discuss an article that I might write for you.

This entire website is (c) Patricia Dines, 1998-2014. All rights reserved.
Page last updated 3/7/2014