Our Clothes are Garbage! 10 Easy Steps to Stop All the Plastic Waste in your Wardrobe

by - Monday, July 15, 2019

Our Clothes are Garbage! 10 Easy Steps to Stop All the Plastic Waste in your Wardrobe

When we think of plastic waste, we picture plastic bottles, bags, food packaging, and straws. We notice those single use plastic items, which are a huge part of the problem, but are not the only issue by far. Our approach to clothing (especially fast fashion) is a major part of the plastic crisis.

If you want to stop the plastic waste taking over our planet, you have to start looking at your closet.

You may be thinking "Ok, but I don't have any sweet plastic rain coats or polyester leisure suits. This is not my problem." I guarantee you, this is your problem. Let's go over some of the ways your closet makes plastic waste:

-The Shipping

It costs companies less to put their product in plastic envelopes than to cover the cost of damaged items. Hence, everything now ships wrapped in plastic, unless the company explicitly takes another route.

- The Fabrics

Plastic-based synthetic fabrics are one of the biggest environmental crisis that no one is talking about. Any of your clothes with spandex, lycra, polyester, elastene (and so many others) is made of plastic, and thousands of tiny pieces of that plastic shed off every time you wash them. This plastic washes out into our water sources, so most animals (including humans) now ingest a significant amount of plastic. This plastic can't be cleaned- unless something changes, your grandchildren will be drinking your leggings. Is it worth it?

- The Upkeep

Dryer sheets, dry-cleaning bags, and detergent all add more plastic to the mix. You can side step all of these, but only if you are ready to pay attention.

Ok here are my best ideas for having a plastic-free wardrobe where you still look like the beautiful, fantastic person that you are:

1. Just Buy Less Clothes

We all have too much clothes. Fabrics and textiles are one of the largest sources of waste and chemical pollution in the world, and it makes sense, because each American, on average, throws away 65 pounds of clothes a year. We are buying way too much, and all those deals come at a huge environmental cost.

Our huge collections of clothes mean we are creating more plastic waste too. When you are buying a lot of clothes, you are more likely to be investing in cheap pieces, which are now mostly made of plastic fabrics like spandex and polyester.

Investing in fewer pieces (and making the wonderful clothes you already own shine, you beautiful person) will do the most good. It avoids the plastic new clothes are packaged in, shopping bags, synthetic fabrics, and all the invisible plastic we don't even notice anymore. If you like having a concrete plan, look into capsule wardrobes. If you have way too much already, do a swap with friends or offer items on Buy Nothing. Do not toss your clothes in the garbage!

The best you can do is wear the hell out of the clothes you already have. It's the one mindset shift that can do the most.

2. Know your Synthetic (see: Plastic) Fibers

Our clothing is creating one of the biggest plastic crisis our planet is facing- microfibers. Plastic-based synthetic clothing sheds microfibers of plastic (about the size of one piece of glitter) every time you wash them. They come tout in your washing machine, and then they are washed out into water sources. These microfibers, though tiny are major problems.

First, because they have reached every corner of our water sources and oceans.

Second, because these microscopic pieces end up in our water and food (maybe up to a credit card's worth of plastic a week), potentially messing with our hormones or causing cancer.

But most importantly, these microfibers cannot be cleaned. Have you every tried to clean up a glitter spill? How about in a full bathtub? That's the challenge our planet is facing now. The first step is to stop pouring glitter into the bathtub, and that means no more synthetic fibers.

The first step is to just increase your awareness and vocabulary around plastic-based fabrics. Check out this post for all the information you need. 

3. Stop Buying Plastic Clothing

Once you know what to look out for, you just have to stop buying things that use synthetic fabrics in them. This can be tough to do, but you just get the hang of checking tags or the details tab when you shop online. If something is made with plastic fabrics, just don't buy it. Even if it is just what you wanted, it isn't worth it.

This is true of secondhand shopping as well. Try to focus on shopping for items that don't list plastic materials. If there isn't a tag anymore, sometimes you can identify by feel. If the fabric is particularly shiny or stretchy, it likely has plastic in it.

You also learn with time that certain companies are less likely to use plastic-based synthetics. Companies that tend to be earth-conscious also tend to avoid these fabrics. Pact, Reformation, Gustin, and so many others mostly avoid it. It feels particularly good to invest companies that are already looking out for the environment.

But really, it's as simple as just not buying something if it is made with plastic fabrics. As you slowly replace things in your closet, you will slowly remove all plastic fibers as well.

4. Embrace a New Kind of Legging

Certain items, like fleece, activewear, and leggings, are particularly loaded with plastic. It can be tough to find plastic-free or plastic-light alternative to active clothing that still gets the job done (and makes your butt look good), but companies are working to make activewear with minimal plastic.

This is ONE area where I will not recommend secondhand or recycled. If you buy leggings made of spandex secondhand, they will only shed more plastic the longer they get use. Another trend is to make activewear out of recycled bottles; while I know their heart is in the wrong place, what this actually does is turns recyclable plastic into tiny pieces that can never be cleaned. Skip it.

If you love your leggings, but you don't want to fill our oceans with plastic, check out this post with my favorite companies that are using as little plastic as possible. If you are only using a tenth of the plastic, that's a tenth of the waste too. If you wear a lot of leggings, this is a change worth making.

5. Fall in Love with Secondhand Clothing

One of the best ways you can protect the environment is to buy as much of your clothes as you can secondhand. Have you ever bought clothes online? You know how they come in that little plastic envelope? All new clothes ship in one of those! So if you buy your next 10 items of clothing secondhand, that is 10 fewer plastic envelopes in the world. Simply by shopping secondhand as a rule, you can keep thousands of those envelopes out of the landfills.

If you don't live somewhere with good thrift shops, you can still switch to secondhand amazingness. Try Thred Up, which sells everything you can dream of AND they ship wrapped in paper, not plastic. I love them so much, and you can get great deals on top of everything else.

6. Return the Plastic to your Dry Cleaner

If you use a dry cleaner, you will get your clothes back in those big plastic bags. The easiest way to sidestep this is to just give them back immediately. They can make it back to your home just fine without the bags, so when you show up to the dry cleaners, take the minute to take the bags off and leave them there for them to use again on the

7. Invest in a Plastic Filter (And Pick up an Extra for a Friend)

Companies have now developed products that filter the microplastics out of your washing machine before they are washed out into water sources. Current studies suggest that they aren't perfect (so not as good as eliminating plastic completely) but they do make a difference.  You can try a filter, a bag, or a Cora Ball. The most important thing is that you do SOMETHING.

Also, my new goal is to just buy one of these for everyone. Everyone should be used to having one of these in their washer until plastic fabrics are banned completely. The less plastic we send to our oceans, the better.

8. Switch up your Detergent

The detergent we use also tends to create a lot of plastic waste. There are a few ways to avoid the big plastic bottles of Tide:

First, think about refillable options. Is there anywhere near you that you can refill your detergent bottles that you already have? We have refills at our co-op grocery store. If not, you can still buy refills from online stores like The Refill Revolution. They sell giant pouches that you use to refill, and then you send it back when you are done.

You second option is to make your own. There are tons of great powder and liquid options on Pinterest, so you can kind of pick what fits what you already like. It saves money, and you can avoid a lot of plastic this way.

9. Think Vintage, not Vegan

This is a controversial one. If you are trying to minimize your negative impact on animals, you will do more good buying secondhand leather boots than brand new pleather ones. Many of the fake alternatives to leather, wool, and other animal fabrics are 100% plastic. Plastic that will become extremely harmful to animals.

Leather, if cared for, can last a lifetime. So even if you are vegan, buying secondhand leather items (where you did not pay a company to kill an animal) has a better impact on animals longterm.

10. Write Companies that Still Use Plastic-Based Fabrics

Want to do a little more? Write the companies that are still manufacturing clothes with synthetic fabrics. If we don't tell them that we aren't ok with it, they assume that everything is fine. If you are at a loss on how to word it, check out this post with my letter to the Gap. You can use the same note and just switch the details to match your favorite companies that need to stop with the synthetic fabrics.

You could also write the washing machine manufacturers to pressure them to include microplastic filters in all of their machines. They knew about this problem and should have done something to solve it long ago. But doing something now is still a better option than doing nothing.

How have you gotten plastics out of your wardrobe?

Our Clothes are Garbage! 10 Easy Steps to Stop All the Plastic Waste in your Wardrobe

Check out the Little Green Dress page for more resources on how to transform your wardrobe into something greener!

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  1. I'm a big fan of secondhand clothing! One mans trash is another mans treasure (:!

    1. yes, I'm a huge fan of secondhand clothing, too. If I have old clothes I'm about to donate or trash, I will also use it sometimes just for the fabric, buttons, zippers, etc. and reuse it for craft projects.

  2. Great article! It's right in line with my mission to convert everyone to wearing sustainable fabrics! Such an important message and so well conveyed! Thanks for spreading the word! <3



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