Using dress sense

Last updated Wednesday 30 April 2008

Dress smart even when you're casual

By shopping smarter and applying a little imagination to your existing wardrobe, you can make your clothes last longer and reduce their climate change impact. And there's no need to sacrifice your style!

Half of all the products we buy are clothes, and every year we chuck away, on average, 30kg of them - most of which goes to landfill. All told, our clothes purchases account for about 1,000kg of CO2 a year - roughly half that emitted by a small diesel car. But buying quality clothes that will last, buying second hand clothes, and recycling clothes when we're finished with them can, it is claimed, substantially reduce that impact.

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Photo: Using dress sense

Saves about 70kg of CO2 a year

1400 Bloomers are doing this

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How does it make a difference?

Pub Fact

  • We each throw away on average 30kg of textiles a year. Most goes to landfill and only a third to charity shops
  • Most people recycle glass bottles, but not clothes, even though recycling clothes saves more C02
  • Production of viscose is more energy intensive than cotton
  • In 2006, UK clothing and textiles produced up to two million tonnes of waste, 3.1 million tonnes of CO2 and 70 million tonnes of waste water
  • Just 10% of clothing consumed within the UK is manufactured here
  • The discount fashion and value clothing sector doubled its growth between 1999-2006
  • About 80% more CO2 is produced washing clothes than making them
  • Sales of ethical clothing increased by 80% in 2006

Each year the average person in the UK spends about 650 on 50 or so items of clothing and what we wear accounts for a surprisingly large chunk of our carbon footprint. When they are manufactured, when they are transported, when they are washed and even when they are thrown away, clothes are responsible for significant greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists claim that sourcing all your clothes second hand, or just not buying any will save 70kg of CO2. It's still not possible to state how much could be saved by recycling them.

In fact, it takes ten times more energy to make a tonne of textiles than it does a tonne of glass, and when you throw wool and cotton clothes into landfill, they produce methane - a gas 23 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than CO2. Yet most people happily recycle bottles and don't think of recycling clothes.

Sourcing all your clothes second hand will save the most CO2 but there are other imaginative ways to cut down on .

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How do I do it?

  • Buy fewer new clothes and aim for better quality - they will last longer
  • Hire outfits for one-off events
  • Stretch your existing wardrobe by customising outfits (with lace, patches) or refashioning with accessories such as belts
  • Buy second-hand, vintage, or recycled clothes from vintage fashion fairs
  • Take unwanted clothes to a charity shop or, if they're really past it, a clothes bank
  • Buy baby clothes second hand, or take advantage of hand-me-downs

You could even try 'swishing' as a novel way to refresh your wardrobe without spending a penny. Swishing involves a clothes-swapping party with your friends, and is reportedly all the rage among the stars. According to stylist Tamsin Blanchard: "Embraced by the likes of Sadie Frost and Thandie Newton, swishing is the biggest trend to hit fashionland this year."

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What's stopping me?

"I don't want to look like a scarecrow!"

Fair enough, but it is perfectly possible to be stylish, nab a bargain and reduce the environmental impact of your fashion sense, without spending half your life scouring jumble sales for other people's unwanted tat.

"Won't it take jobs away from developing countries?"

It's true that 90% of the clothes we buy in the UK are transported here from abroad, mainly from China, India and Bangladesh - a fact that only adds to the environmental impact of clothing. Also, working in the textiles industry often means long hours, low pay, poor safety records and the use of child labour.

If you are concerned about these issues, then recycle your old clothes through a scheme such as TRAID (Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development) and look into buying fairly traded clothes. See BBC Thread for more details on ethical fashion.

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Comments

Anonymous 2010-01-04

a fairly easy one for the skint student population, no? :)

Catherine, London 2010-01-01

I'm a Malawian Student here in the UK. i'm so amazed at how much clothes my uni friends had to throw away before their trips back home. i never throw away clothes in Malawi, simply because everyone knows that what ever you dont need, someone else will use it . But here the statistics are startling. I'm more concerned about baby clothes which parents 'get rid off' simply because children grow fast.

I'm thinking of creating a charity, (operational mainly through a website) which would facilitate the donation and reception of unwanted baby clothes to orphanages in the third world. Of course i'd have to start small but at the moment i'm wondering how can i possibly reach out to the public to make these donations. Ideas?

Wes Platon, Singapore 2009-06-11

I'm a sucker for vintage clothes. And my style (if you can call it that) is kind of laid back. So i don't mind the fades and the frays of going second-hand.

Jon, London 2009-02-11

I still wear clothes I bought 20 years ago! and if I need something new I go to a charity shop or rummage through my friends unwanted clothes.

Watson,J. 2008-11-28

Dressing smarter: Studies show that Americans tend to spend an abundant amount of money on clothes weekly. And the clothing that we don't use, goes to waste. Its a cheap,easy, and popular way, with little carbon dioxide impact. The clothes that are thrown out ends up in landfills, affecting the environment. Dressing smarter will make a difference because we are able to reduce our carbon footprint. It also helps decrease the emissions of harmful substances such as methane when washed or dried. How do we do it? Simply by buying fewer new clothes, using second hand clothing, customizing clothing, and giving unwanted clothing to charity organizations. What's stopping us? The fact that image is an important concept to us. We want to look faboulus at a high expense. Dressing smarter is a good idea, and it will help our environment as well as our wallets!

grayster, United Kingdom 2008-11-09

Great to swap clothes with friends too xxx

Anonymous 2008-09-12

i have registered for freecycle

NIXS, Denver, CO, USA 2008-08-29

I moving this weekend and will be taking my old clothes to an exchange store in my neighborhood. Not only do I get rid of things I don't wear, I'll get someon elses treasures!

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Glossary terms used on this page
CO2
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.
Carbon footprint
A person's carbon footprint (or that of a particular household, business or entire community) refers to the CO2 for which they are responsible - whether directly, via their home energy use, their transport use, or indirectly via the embodied energy in the products and services they buy and use. You can work out your carbon footprint using calculators such as the Government's Act On CO2 Calculator.
Diesel
Ordinary diesel, like regular petrol, is refined from oil but it is a thicker, heavier liquid with a higher 'energy density' - meaning it offers better fuel economy. On the down side, unless you buy an air filter, diesel exhaust is a significant source of particulates and other sources of air pollution. A type of diesel not derived from petroleum is increasingly widely available, commonly referred to as biodiesel.
Energy intensive
An energy-intensive process uses a great deal of energy - and therefore produces high emissions - relative to its useful output. As an example, beef production, has recently been cited as an especially energy-intensive industry, while tumble dryers are energy-intensive appliances. Products that are manufactured in an energy-intensive way are also said to be 'emissions heavy'.
Greenhouse gases
Greenhouse gases raise the earth's temperature through the greenhouse effect. There are six main examples. As well as carbon dioxide, they include: water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and CFCs (which include sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs). Of these, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs are controlled under the Kyoto Protocol to limit their concentration in the atmosphere. The heat warming capacity of each gas is measured by its 'global warming potential': how much heat it traps depends on its chemical make-up and how long it stays in the atmosphere.
Landfill
Landfill is disposal of rubbish by burying it under the ground.
Methane
Methane is a hydrocarbon, the main component of natural gas and among the six greenhouse gases to be curbed under the Kyoto protocol. As a greenhouse gas it is estimated to have a warming effect about 25 times as great as CO2. (Compared to CO2 its effects are greater but last for a shorter period). As a fuel, it is used in electricity generation and in the form of compressed natural gas it can be used as vehicle fuel. Methane is produced during the decomposition of many materials in landfill, while about 16% of methane emissions are caused by livestock's digestive processes.
Textile banks
A textile bank is a place to take old clothes for recycling. Compared with other materials such as glass, there is, as yet, very little textile recycling in the UK.

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