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Sustainable, Affordable, Fashionable: The Benefits of Thrifting

By: Eleanor Schlick

When you spend that “twenty dollars in your pocket” at a consignment store, you’re doing more than getting a great deal. You’re helping the planet by reusing clothes that would otherwise become part of the billions of pounds of apparel that is wasted every single year. 

To put it in perspective, one garbage truck of clothes is burned or sent to a landfill every second according to the World Resources Institute. In recent years, people have been buying more clothes, but not keeping them for nearly as long. For example, a recent study done by the Environmental Protection Agency found that the average American throws away 81 pounds of clothing annually. The statistics are staggering, but why is this happening?

Part of the answer is an increase in fast fashion over the past few years. Fast fashion is when companies like Zara, Missguided, H&M, and ASOS produce new clothes quickly to keep up with the trends. Instead of stores releasing clothing lines twice a year, they release them every one or two months. For some places like Zara and ASOS, the turnaround can be as quick as two weeks. 

The items are incredibly cheap as well, with sweaters and leggings costing an easy 15 bucks. However, there’s a downside to the speed and good deals. In order to be profitable, businesses have to make their clothes cheaply too. Garments are constructed out of low-quality, synthetic materials and created using basic manufacturing processes. 

Simon Collins, dean of fashion at Parsons The New School for Design said to NPR, “You see some products and it’s just garbage. It’s just crap, and you sort of fold it up and you think, yeah, you’re going to wear it Saturday night to your party, and then it's literally going to fall apart.”

Simply put, frequent fashion cycles plus low prices equals bad-quality clothes, most of which are non-biodegradable. Many pieces won’t completely decompose for another 20 to 200 years.

There’s also issues with the manufacturing process itself. The World Resources Institute reported that producing a single pair of jeans has a carbon footprint identical to driving more than 80 miles. The water used to make one cotton shirt is enough to meet the average person’s drinking needs for two-and-a-half years. Clothing production puts a serious toll on the environment and isn’t sustainable given the limited amount of resources we have. What is sustainable, is thrift shopping.

We’ve heard throughout our lives to reduce, reuse, and recycle. By purchasing less fast fashion, buying from and donating to consignment stores, and recycling damaged clothes, we can do all three. Keeping good care of our clothes so that they can be re-used by others once we no longer want them adds to the cycle of sustainability. No waste is being added to the endless landfills, and shoppers have more high-quality pieces to choose from when buying secondhand. Thrifting overall is a win-win situation, especially if you consider the other non-environmental benefits.

Profits from some thrift stores help to support charities. Goodwill, which has locations throughout the U.S. and Canada, uses the money from selling donations to provide job training and other services for people in your community. The company even has an app that calculates how many hours of services and potential pounds of goods diverted from landfills your donation provides. Avoid dropping off clothes at random pick up boxes and go directly to stores; that way you know exactly where your donations are going.

For-profit consignment stores are also a valid option. Both types of retailers have low prices and great finds. A pair of jeans can cost three dollars and a nice jacket may sell for nine bucks. You can even find designer pieces that would never sell for such a reasonable price at the original store. You never know what you’re going to find when you go thrift shopping, but usually you come out with something unique and fun at a bargain of a cost. What are you waiting for? Get a tote bag, drive to the nearest thrift store, and save the planet with your money-savvy, stylish, environmentally aware purchases.


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