Don’t toss that tee! Clothing upkeep and repair tips to help you keep your clothes longer

 Every year Americans throw 13 million tons of textile material into the landfill.

Every year Americans throw 13 million tons of textile material into the landfill.

Americans have a clothing waste problem. On average, we throw away 80 pounds of clothing per person every year. Once in the landfill, this waste releases greenhouse gases like methane that contribute to global warming and leach harmful chemicals into our groundwater. Some synthetic garments can take hundreds of years or more to biodegrade.

Before you decide to toss something out, here are some tips and resources on how to clean, repair, sell, or — if you must purge— responsibly recycle your old clothing and household textiles.

Clean

  1. Don’t let it set! The most important thing to remember is to address the stain as quickly as possible by keeping it damp with room temperature water. After it sets, it becomes even harder to remove. Aka get the stain out before you pop anything in the dryer. And along the same lines, dab, don’t rub. Rubbing can lead to setting.
  2. Get a Tide pen. This is a handy, small tool you can keep in your bag in the event of an accident. It’s especially good for the chronically clumsy amongst us.
  3. Have the right tools. The experts recommend keeping on hand all the following ingredients to address any type of stain: ammonia, bleach, cornstarch, dish soap, glycerine, hydrogen peroxide, laundry detergent, rubbing alcohol, a stain pretreater like Shout, and white vinegar.

Check out the following online resources for more stain-specific guidance:

Remove Odors

Hey, wait, you say, what about funky smells? If you enjoy a good thrift store treasure hunt, you sometimes end up getting more than you bargained for in the form of musty or moth-ball odors. Here are some tips on airing it out:

  1. Literally air it out. Try hanging your clothes on a clothesline outside where they can get some fresh air.
  2. Stick it in the freezer. The chill in your freezer kills bacteria and can also cancel out stinky smells. (This is also a great alternative way to “wash” your jeans!)
  3. Good ol’ baking soda and vinegar. For washable clothes, add 1 cup of baking soda to the wash cycle along with detergent. Mix well and allow the clothing to soak for at least 1 hour before completing the wash. Add 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar to the final rinse.
  4. Add essential oils to the wash. A few drops of tea tree, lavender, or lemon oil in the wash might just do the trick.
  5. Try vodka. Mix 3 parts high-proof vodka to 1 part water, spray it on and let it dry. Then mix yourself a stiff drink and toast to your hard work.

Repair

No sewing machine? Don’t despair! Here are some easy stitches you can do just with a little needle and thread.

  1. This Lifehacker article (complete with videos!) offers five simple hand stitches you can employ for adding patches, shortening hems, fixing tears and more.
  2. When in doubt ask Martha. This helpful slideshow offers tips on mending a seam to patching a hole.
  3. Take it to a tailor. In my case, this is my mom, but if your mom lives far away (or can’t sew) I recommend finding a tailor in your area (Yelp is a good resource for this). They can usually quote you over the phone and will quickly get you back into that LBD in no time. (I’ve personally used JC Lofton Tailors on U Street NW in DC and have had a good experience with their quality and customer service.)

Sell

There are oodles and oodles of new and old thrift options for you to sell your old threads when you’ve outgrown them (physically or emotionally).

Online

  1. ThredUp — For basics and less-fancy stuff (women’s and kid’s only), check out online consignment shop ThredUp. They send you a bag to fill up and send back, then send you a check or credit to shop on their online consignment store.
  2. Poshmark — It’s kind of like an Etsy for your old clothes. You list the item, choose the price, and manage the sales process.
  3. SnobSwap — DC-based SnobSwap is more for luxury items but functions similarly to ThredUp.
  4. eBay — When all else fails, just pop it up on eBay and see what happens.

IRL

The DC area has quite a few great shops that I have sold to or shopped at for secondhand clothes. Here’s a rundown:

  1. Secondi — Connecticut & R St NW — Secondi is a dreamland of high-quality secondhand garments, most of which are high-end or luxury. For your first drop-off, you have to call and make an appointment but after that you can just drop things off.
  2. Buffalo Exchange — 14th & N St NW — Buffalo Exchange is a national chain with locations around the country. You can drop by pretty much anytime (though you may have to wait in line) and have your clothes evaluated and get paid on the spot. Note that anything they don’t take, you may have to take back with you and donate elsewhere.
  3. Current Boutique — 14th & S St NW — Current is a slightly fancier Buffalo Exchange and only accepts women’s clothing.
  4. Crossroads — 14th & U St NW — Crossroads is like Buffalo Exchange but offers more options for selling (like making an appointment or selling by mail).

Recycle

95% of the textile material we throw away can be recycled. That’s right, even your holey old t-shirts, worn out underwear, or sad, decoupled socks. Textile recycling is an old industry dating back centuries when old garments would be converted mostly into wipers for cleaning. Nowadays, used clothing is converted into a wide range of products from insulation to carpet underlay to blankets and much more.

Website Recycling Explainer.png

 

Many people feel guilty about including old, worn-out items in a donation bag to charity, but for the most part, charities weed these items out and sell them to recyclers, so they don’t end up going to the needy, so feel free to include them in your donation bag.

And if you’re in the DC area, check out my startup, Texiles™, a used clothing home pickup service. We work with local charities and secondhand partners to ensure your items get reworn or repurposed, and stay out of the landfill.

Clothing waste takes up 6% of landfill space and each pair of socks or underwear contributes to that figure. So next time you think of sticking an item of clothing in the trash because of a hole or a stain, consider giving it a chance at a second life.

(Feel free to share any of your own tips or resources on cleaning, repairing, selling, swapping clothing, etc. in the comments!)

Texiles™ Launches!

Texiles™, the first post-consumer clothing recycling company, launches door-to-door pickup service in Washington, DC today. 

Americans throw almost 13 million tons of clothing in the trash every year. This material decomposes slowly and releases harmful greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Yet, 95% of it can be recycled.

Texiles™'s mission is to collect that material before it gets to the landfill and recycle it. Before, your old holey or stained clothes went straight into the trash. Now, a friendly Texiles™ tech will come and pick up your old clothes at your door and make sure they get disposed of properly.

What can you give us? Any garment of clothing – in great shape or (pretty much) the worst. (See How it Works for a full list of what we do and don't currently accept.)

Use our handy booking tool to make an appointment for pickup. We're currently accepting pickups within Washington, DC city limits.

Hooray!

Breaking Mother Earth’s Bank

Imagine that you have blown your entire year’s budget in the first 7 months of the year. Now imagine that you’ve actually been doing worse every year, breaking the bank earlier and earlier as the years pass. You wouldn’t really be considered fiscally responsible, would you?

Yet, collectively, that’s exactly what we’re doing. For the next 150 or so days we will be living beyond Earth’s resources. The Global Footprint Network estimates that at our current rate of resource use, we would need 1.7 planet Earths, based on average global consumption. If we all lived the way the average American does, that number shoots up to 4 Earths.

 Stockholm Resilience Centre’s 9 planetary boundaries

Stockholm Resilience Centre’s 9 planetary boundaries

What are the types of resources we’re talking about? Food, water, energy and other natural resources like trees. And is there a point of no return? The Stockholm Resilience Center, a European research institute dedicated to offering science-based policy guidance on resilience-building, lists 9 planetary boundaries which, it says, “could generate abrupt or irreversible environmental changes” if crossed. Of these 9, the Centre says 4 — climate change, biodiversity loss, land-use change, and the flow of phosphorus and nitrogen into waterways — have already been breached. “Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to a deterioration of human wellbeing in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries,” said Professor Will Steffen of the Centre in a press release.

Drivers of Debt

What’s driving the upward trend in resource use? Two main factors are population growth and consumption intensity.

Population Growth

It’s a truism that more human beings will consume more stuff, but at what point will the planet have more humans than it can ecologically handle? New estimates of population growth see our ranks swelling to 11.2 billion by 2100, an uptick from previous estimates which saw population leveling off around 9 billion.

 Population growth scenarios based on fertility levels over time

Population growth scenarios based on fertility levels over time

Of the roughly 7 billion people on the planet today, nearly 12%already don’t get enough to eat. While part of this has to do with poor allocation of resources (which I’ll cover in a separate post) a rapidly growing population will tax locally-available resources. Since most of this growth is projected to take place in developing countries, this means more people competing for resources in already resource-strapped localities.

Consumption Intensity

Population growth is not our only worry. A related, and perhaps more concerning, issue is consumption intensity, or per capita consumption per unit of GDP — basically the concept that people in developed countries use far more resources than people in developing countries. One stunning statistic quickly puts this in relief: a child born in the United States will use on average as many resources as 35 children born in India. The Sierra Club’s Dave Tilford told Scientific American that, “With less than 5 percent of world population, the U.S. uses one-third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, 23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, and 19 percent of the copper.”

 People consume more resources as they enter higher social tiers, purchasing appliances and vehicles, eating richer foods, and living in bigger homes.

People consume more resources as they enter higher social tiers, purchasing appliances and vehicles, eating richer foods, and living in bigger homes.

As people enter the middle class, they tend to consume more and more expensive products and services. The flip-phone gets upgraded to a smart phone; new appliances like a dishwasher and washer and dryer get installed; the bicycle or moped gets traded in for a gas-guzzling car; meat consumption increases; and so on. This is cause for concern because the middle class is growing in both developed and developing countries around the globe, and it’s growing at a faster pace than economists had predicted.

 Source: Homi Kharas, “ The Unprecedented Expansion of the Middle Class: An Update ,” Brookings, February 2017.

Source: Homi Kharas, “The Unprecedented Expansion of the Middle Class: An Update,” Brookings, February 2017.

There were about 3.2 billion people in the middle class at the end of 2016, 500 million more than the Brookings Institution had previously estimated. Over the next 15 years or so, global middle-class consumption could increase by as much as $29 trillion.

The Upshot

While most countries are moving forward with their Paris Accord climate pledges (with the glaring exception of the United States), keeping global temperature rise below the 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) mark, long deemed critical by climatologists, now seems unlikely.

This may leave many citizens and consumers feeling powerless and frustrated, but as individuals, there’s still a lot we can each do to make a difference. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Track your own consumption and cut it — Data is your best friend when it comes to identifying your own consumption habits. Try jotting down your behaviors like how long you spend in the shower, how often you drive to work rather than taking public transit or biking, or how often you throw out food. Budget tracking apps are a great tool here as well — not only will they help you identify your habits, they’ll also help you save money by cutting costs.
  2. Eat less meat and compost your food waste — According to the World Resources Institute, “Beef production requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of edible protein than common plant-based protein sources such as beans, peas and lentils.” Check out their article, here, for great tips on adjusting your meat intake. Likewise, cutting your food waste by cutting overbuying and composting any waste you have, could result in big climate savings. Currently, we globally waste 1/3 of the food we produce through spoilage or tossing out excess.
  3. Get educated and get vocal — Get up to speed on growing movements like the circular economy and zero waste (more on these topics in future blog posts), and get your elected officials up to speed too.

These are just a few tips to get you started, I’ll be sharing more in blog posts to follow, and I’d love to hear your tips (and suggestions for future posts) in the comments section below. Until then, happy consumption tracking!