9 reasons you shouldn't throw away clothes, and 4 things you can do instead.

Textile waste is a real problem that so often goes overlooked.

It's springtime! The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and everyone's ready to clean out their closets.

There's something about warmer weather — it seems to make us want to do a complete makeover on our wardrobes and get rid of clutter around the house.

When it comes to unwanted items, sometimes it just feels good to purge and start fresh. No doubt there have been times when you've thrown things in the trash instead of taking them to a donation center. Perhaps you didn't have the time to drop it off, or you thought it was too far gone to be donated.


You're not alone. According to the 2017 State of Reuse Report, North Americans throw away roughly 81 pounds of textiles (clothing, towels, bedding, etc.) a year per person. Think of it this way: That's more than 26 billion pounds (!) heading into landfills each year across the U.S. and Canada alone.

Image via iStock.

Still not convinced? Here are nine more reasons to not throw away clothing.

1. Every time you toss a piece of clothing in the trash, you're costing your city or town money.

According to the EPA, it costs an average of $45 per ton to dispose of waste in a landfill. A fashion-focused city like New York City pays $20.6 million per year just to dispose of textile waste. That's a whole other level of wastefulness.

2. Your used clothes may be more usable than you think.

According to Savers' most recent study, 62% of people who admit to throwing away textiles do so because they didn't think a donation center would take them. This is an unfortunate misconception.

3. 95% of used textiles can be recycled or repurposed.

Take a minute to pick your jaw up off the floor. Yup, those are the stats from The Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART). Since people tend to think no one can use clothes with holes, used undergarments, or that shirt that got burned in a freak cooking accident, they don’t bother trying to recycle them. But just because it may not be wearable doesn't mean it won't serve a purpose. These items can have a second life as dishrags or even insulation.

4. Taking clothes to donation centers helps your local community.

Image via iStock.

In terms of giving back, the Savers survey found that 78% of people would prefer their charitable giving to benefit a local cause rather than a national cause, and 76% consider donating clothing and home goods "charitable giving." The textiles you bring to your local donation center will directly benefit members of your community.

5. The apparel industry is the second-largest industrial polluter in the world.

According to Forbes, the production of clothes (just clothes, not all textiles) is responsible for 10% of all carbon emissions on the planet. And since we know production won't stop, we should do what we can to offset these stats by reusing, recycling, and buying fewer clothes.

6. Clothes release toxic gas when they decompose in landfills.

As clothing joins the rest of the garbage in landfills, it breaks down and releases toxic greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the environment. In fact, landfills are the third-largest source of atmospheric methane on the planet.

7. It takes so much water to make a pair of jeans.

Up to 1,800 gallons, to be exact. That's more water than you can or will drink in five years. Just some food (or water) for thought.

8. It takes more energy to make a new pair of jeans than leaving the lights in your house on all night.

Sorry, clothes hounds, but this is reason enough to patch those tried and true jeans in your closet.

9. Fast fashion (garments typically worn less than five times, then thrown away) is a major contributor to clothing waste.

You know those cheaply made clothes that don't really hold up well in the wash, so you toss them after about a month or two? They produce 400% more carbon emissions per item per year than that one great outfit-making piece of clothing you wear 50 times and keep for a year or more.

Ready to do your part to support a nonprofit or charitable organization in your community while saving the planet? Here are a few ways you can make a difference by reducing textile waste.

1. DON'T throw away your clothes (whether they are good quality, used, or worn out). DO bring them to your local donation center.

Savers found that 96% of the people they polled are willing to drive up to 30 minutes to donate their unwanted clothing. So not only is it good to do, it's easy.

2. Have a clothing swap party!

Image by J R/Flickr.

Hate the idea of sorting through your clothes and lugging them somewhere without an immediate payoff? What if you could exchange them for new (to you) clothes and party down with your friends at the same time? That’s the sheer delight of a clothing swap party: You get to discard the clothes you no longer want and return home with ones you like, all at no cost to you.

3. Shop thrift.

Thrifting is on the rise, and millennials (as usual) are leading the charge. Most cities also have consignment shops where you can sell lightly used clothes or exchange them for other lightly used clothes (which, let’s face it, always seem cooler than our own). That's like recycling squared!

4. Find ways to reuse and repurpose your own clothes.

30% of the clothes you donate will be repurposed into a commercial or industrial wiping cloth. If you have worn, stained, or torn clothing and textiles, why not just make your own rags for cleaning or arts and crafts?

Curtailing your clothing waste and reducing your carbon footprint can be an adjustment, but all it takes is a little bit of effort to change how you see what's in your closet.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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