clothes going into the dump

The Massive Waste Problem of the Clothing Industry

You’re recycling your aluminum cans and your cardboard boxes. You’ve switched to reusable bags for the grocery store and reusable water bottles at the gym. But there’s one big problem that’s contributing to millions of tons of waste in our garbage dumps and increasing plastic pollution in our environment, and it’s all over your body. The clothing industry has quietly become one of the biggest offenders in our trash problem. Current production methods are wasteful and the fashion industry perpetuates the problem. By changing how and what kinds of clothing we purchase, we can make a big difference in the amount of clothing that is ending up in the garbage dump.


Even though there are technically four fashion seasons in the year, the fashion industry has increased the production of different styles and is putting them in stores more frequently than ever before. The term “Fast Fashion” has been created to name this trend: more clothes, more often, cheaper, and more disposable. Almost every month, a consumer can walk into a store and find new styles to buy. This creates huge amounts of waste because the “out of season” clothes need to go somewhere. Some are sold at a discount, but tons of clothing are simply thrown out to make room for new items. It isn’t just the lower-priced stores that are guilty of this. High Fashion houses have been accused of destroying their out-of-season goods instead of selling them at a discount. This works to preserve the exclusivity of these brands.


According to, approximately a garbage truck-sized load of clothing is burned or thrown into the dump EVERY SECOND. Whether it is post or pre-consumer waste, the problem is that these clothes don’t break down for many years, sometimes hundreds of years. That is partly because most clothing styles utilize plastic. Whether you call it polyester, nylon, acrylic, or polyamide – it’s made from petroleum. The production of these types of clothes is extremely toxic, from the raw materials being extracted to the unsavory factories overseas producing the final products. There is also a stealthy way that your cute yoga leggings are polluting the ocean. Every time you wash your plastic clothing, microplastics are shed into the water system slipping through the water treatment plant, and ultimately ending up in the ocean. Eventually, these tiny shards get inside all kinds of sea life, including the kind we eat.


There are some steps we can take to solve this problem, and it really does start with us as the consumers. You don’t have to stop buying clothes completely, but it is important to become aware of quality over quantity. Invest in some classy natural fiber pieces that are timeless instead of that trendy but inexpensive spandex item. Hemp, linen, and cotton (ideally organic) are some great options. Find brands that are committed to sustainability, like United By Blue. This company uses many different natural materials in their clothing, along with some recycled polyester (which is not perfect, however it does have a much smaller carbon footprint than virgin polyester). Much of our plastic-filled clothing has a long lifespan, so try to use and repair your clothes for as long as possible. When you’re washing your clothes, use a Guppyfriend washing bag, which traps many of the microfibers and keeps them from going into the water supply, and keeps your cute yoga pants looking new.


As long as we keep buying and throwing away clothes, we are part of the problem. The decisions we make as consumers have massive and long-lasting effects on our planet. Next time you are looking to purchase a new clothing item, consider whether that item is truly necessary. Actively seek out brands that use sustainable and natural fibers. Look for clothing swaps or online used clothing resellers to give your unwanted items new life with another owner. By making small changes, we can keep millions of tons of clothing out of the dump each year and microplastics out of our oceans, rivers, and streams.

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Christian Shaw