Report: Consumers Still Don’t Know How Badly Clothing Affects the Environment

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Photo: Courtesy of Savers

Despite efforts to curb pollution, many consumers are still unaware of how clothing consumption hurts the environment.

According to the second annual Savers State of Reuse Report, 46 percent of North Americans said they own too much wardrobe items. Although 80 percent of respondents donated unwanted apparel last year, clothing reuse misconceptions remain prevalent among consumers.

Today, many consumers have trouble understanding the concept of clothing reuse. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data found that 26 billion pounds of apparel and textiles end up in landfills each year, yet the Council for Textile Recycling said 95 percent of worn and torn clothes can be recycled and given a second life.

Consumers also admitted they didn’t know what to do with their used garments—54 percent said they still throw away used clothing instead of donating and 62 percent threw used clothing away because they didn’t think a donation center would accept them.

Despite these misconceptions, consumers know donating clothing can positively impact their communities. Seventy-one percent of consumers said a key benefit of donated unwanted clothes was that they would go to others in need, and 76 percent also considered donating apparel a form of charitable giving. The report also indicated that people prioritized community impact over environmental impact with their donation decisions. Seventy-eight percent wanted their donations to benefit their community, while 22 percent said they wanted their donations to benefit the environment.

Consumers still don’t fully grasp the connection between their apparel consumption and its negative toll on the environment. Sixty percent of consumers thought leaving lights on overnight used more energy than manufacturing a new pair of jeans, meanwhile 54 percent of consumers thought taking a 10-minute shower was more environmentally harmful than throwing away 10 T-shirts annually. Once consumers learned about how their clothing consumption negatively impacted the environment, 75 percent agreed they would make more eco-conscious decisions if they were in the know about clothing reuse.

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Fostering a more circular economy could be a solution for the industry’s pollution dilemma, and consumers play an important role in this shift, since they could find ways to reuse their clothing and minimize the number of garments going to landfills yearly. Thrifting is also on the rise in the U.S. More than 60 percent of North Americans spent money on used clothing in 2016 and 55 percent of consumers think individuals should be held accountable for disposing of apparel properly.

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