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Americans generated 13 million tons of clothing and footwear waste in 2018, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Cutting down those numbers is a daunting task, but some young people are turning to thrift shopping to help the environment and their wallets. Rhode Island PBS Weekly's Isabella Jibilian reports.
Thrift shopping has taken on a completely new life, one reason the EPA calculates that unwanted clothing and footwear resulted in 13 million tons of waste back in 2018. Rhode Island PBS Weekly's Isabella Jibilian reports and how many young people are now turning to thrifting to help the environment and their wallets.
Imagine what it would be like to not buy any new clothes.
Han-ray Jahn, Student, Rhode Island School of Design: So in 2017 I got a striped shirt that was like I said, like this is my last new thing I'm ever going to get.
That was the goal for Han-ray Jahn, a student at Rhode Island School of Design. He went nearly two years without buying a single new item of clothing. What did you do instead?
One like buying used so going through thrift stores finding things, it's more based on like need rather than want so buying less and getting less.
He also learned how to sew his own clothes, darn socks and make his own repairs.
I think you can see in the pocket here like originally there's no bottom in the pockets.
Jahn says his new approach to shopping began when he saw how clothes were made and how it affects the environment.
Huge amounts of water are used to like produce a single yard of fabric or especially in dyes and processing and agriculture to like cotton is a pretty like water hungry plant.
And he says not too many people know that polyester comes from drilling oil and synthetics shed.
Fabrics make fuzz it's the lint that comes out in your dryer and from synthetic fabrics that's microplastics.
One study found that a polyester garment can cast off more than 1,900 fibers in a single wash which then make their way through sewers and into waterways.
And Jahn really reached a tipping point after seeing reports about the frequent human rights abuses when making fast, cheap clothes.
In Bangladesh, environmental and labor laws are frequently ignored in the $1 billion export leather industry. Wastewater with harmful chemicals is dumped into neighborhoods streams. The water scene here is actually dyed blue because of the process. Workers process skins without protective gear exposing them to known cancer causing agents like Chromium, and child workers are frequently seen operating heavy machinery. Fast fashion also causes problems long after it's been made. Author and journalist Adam Minter has written about the global recycling industry for the past two decades.
Adam Minter, Author and Journalist: I mean, one of the things that's happened over the last 25 years really is that garments have become more difficult to recycle. And that's where you start seeing large amounts of textile waste.
And Minter says this is why in part, we're seeing a thrifting trend.
Because of the development of, you know, of apps, the posh marks, the thread ups, you know, various other apps, eBay, people are able to post for sale their old garments straight out of their closet, and they're purchased that way.
Jacqueline Jutras, Thrifter:
When something and we love it. We'll wear it a couple of times and then we'll sell it.
24-year-old Jacqueline Jutras uses Depop, a resale app that's a favorite among Gen Z.
A lot of people selling clothing online starts with like the closet clean out, like for sure that's where it starts. You can put a towel over it and then just iron it quick, quick.
Jutras recently made her 700 sale on the platform.
That's very sustainable and that, you know, it's all being purchased secondhand.
Offline, Jutras hunts for deals at the Goodwill outlet in Hamden, Connecticut. She calls it the bins. Here they sell by the pound and the more you buy, the cheaper it is. Every half hour, new bins roll onto the floor. It's serious business for their main clientele, Pickers. People who buy in bulk and resell.
Should be no hands on the table until the rotation is complete.
Everyone has to wait for a signal before they can compete for the best clothes.
The leftover clothes head through the doors to Goodwill's recycling center. They're tipped onto a conveyor belt compressed into 1,000 pound bales and then stacked, they might be shredded and used to stuff cushions, cut into rags or get exported abroad. It's just a small slice of a global secondhand market.
And there's all kinds of consumer survey data showing that younger consumers Gen Z, starting with Gen Z primarily are open to this idea of use and reuse.
But he says their excitement hasn't made a dent in the massive market for new clothes. But some retailers like Patagonia and superstore Walmart are listening. They now offer secondhand on their websites.
This is part of you know a massive consumer shift. That's not necessarily going to happen overnight. But I do think we are seeing a change where you are going to have secondhand used clothing is a bigger part of the overall apparel retail chain.
What's your short take on what's the most responsible way to be a consumer of clothes?
Buy secondhand, but when you buy new stuff, buy durability stuff that can be reused that can feed that secondhand.
Back at Rhode Island School of Design, Han-Ray Jahn continues to sew and thrift. But after nearly two years, his strict no new clothes streak came to an end.
I think I broke it for dress socks actually.
And socks weren't the only challenge.
Underwear, I — that was one of the things that did end the buying new clothes, things getting new underwear.
I don't think anyone blames that one.
Yes, so I'm definitely not so strict anymore. Every once in a while if I need something and I can't make it or don't have the time to make it and can't find it and fit it and repair it, then I'll go and get something new. So it's kind of like getting something new is the last resort if all my other things don't work out.
For "PBS News Weekend," I'm Isabella Jibilian in Providence Rhode Island.
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