I went through my closet the other day. The amount of jeans I own is slightly absurd, and I have a feeling that’s pretty typical.
The denim industry is a huge one. Worldwide, over 1 BILLION pairs of jeans are sold each year.
That denim demand isn’t easy on the environment. It takes 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to make a single pair of jeans. And that doesn’t even account for the water used to make and distribute them! The State of the Apparel Sector reports that the full water footprint for a single pair of jeans is about 2,866 gallons. Yes, that’s a lot.
Now, while our planet is made primarily of water, we’ve seen time and time again that it’s not a resource to be taken lightly — National Geographic points out that “in essence, only 0.007 percent of the planet's water is available to fuel and feed its 6.8 billion people.” Yikes.
And according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average American tosses about 80 pounds of textiles annually. Given how many jeans are sold each year, you can bet they make up a significant portion of that waste.
It’s not like denim “goes bad.” So, instead of tossing it, what can we do when it’s time to retire our collection?
Fortunately, there are a ton of ways to give denim a second life! From companies that are using their corporate power for good to crafty people who show us how to transform old jeans into everyday objects, there’s an option for anyone who wants to take a small step toward keeping this planet in functioning order. And we are living in the internet age after all — there are a ton of DIY blogs and videos online to help the less-skilled along. Here are some of my favorites.
There are companies finding unique ways to cut down on waste:
Levi's & Evrnu
Levi's is pretty much synonymous with jeans. And while they benefit from our denim fervor, they’re also well aware of the effect of textile waste on the environment. So they got creative. Partnering with Evrnu, they created jeans from discarded T-shirts. Yes, they literally turned T-shirts into jeans. Their website states that “the cutting-edge method not only converts consumer waste into renewable fiber, it also uses 98 percent less water than virgin cotton products, according to Evrnu data.”
This is still an early prototype, but for so many, it's already proven its worth. In a release, Paul Dillinger, head of global product innovation at Levi Strauss & Co. said,
"Although early days, this technology holds great promise and is an exciting advancement as we explore the use of regenerated cotton to help significantly reduce our overall impact on the planet. ... As technologies such as Evrnu evolve over time, there will be greater opportunities to accelerate the pace of change towards a closed loop apparel industry."
That’s good on so many levels. Less water used, less waste produced, and out of it all, an eco-friendly pair of jeans is produced. That’s a nice loop.
These creative projects could be a fun way to hold onto that pair of jeans.
You know, the pair with the hole in the side that no longer fits, but which you’d never get rid of ... because memories.
I have a knack for destroying potholders. I’ve accidentally seared quite a few by leaving them on or near the stove, so I was pretty pumped to see that my old jeans could be a solution to that ongoing problem.
Commatose blog shared a great trick. With the help of a sewing machine and some patience, old, baggy jeans can become stylish skinny jeans. The best part? The jeans are completely tailored to your body and your preferred fit because you get to make them exactly the way you like them.
Cutesycrafts blog blew me away with this DIY quilt and versatile carrying strap. The quilt is adorable and perfect for the summer months when we want to sit outside in the park but aren't quite sure whether that green patch of grass is a smart choice or every dog's favorite poop spot. And the carrier? Well that's the best part — it can be used to carry just about anything that you can fold and fit into the straps.
And for those of us who aren't great with a sewing kit, there are a lot of easy ways to donate:
Thrift stores offer a ton of options for turning in your old denim. Some will even pick up the clothes from your house! They resell what they can and recycle what can't be salvaged.
And if you're wondering what happens to your dscarded denim once it's donated, companies like Blue Jeans Go Green are doing pretty cool things, like making denim insulation — yes, that's a thing! Picture your old pants keeping families warm as the temperatures drop. And they don't stop there. A portion of the insulation created is provided to communities in need. Doing good all around.
The options are endless, really.
Whatever you choose to do, giving denim as long of a life as possible seems like something the environment will thank us for later.
The fact that only 0.007% of the world’s water supply is available sounds bleak, but with a little creativity — and the help of corporate powers stepping up to the plate — it doesn’t have to be.