Used clothing eco or not?
The second-hand clothing store has been talking lately, even as a new form of fast fashion. The debate is therefore necessary, because the amount of waste textiles we are creating is huge, and the transition of fast-fashion to the recycling market does not serve more sustainable development very far. On the other hand, it is worrying if the purchase of second-hand clothing is to be annulled as a new fast fashion.
Finns generate 70 million kilos of waste textiles a year.
It is good to distinguish between the effects of consumer behavior and the environmental load of the actual garment, which arises from the material and method of manufacture.
The manufacture of new clothing always consumes resources both in terms of material and in the form of energy consumption of used machines and possibly even extensive logistics. Here, on the other hand, a garment that goes locally for re-use may only require a small transport distance and hand-made sorting work. Thus, it is difficult for a new garment to compete with the used one for eco-friendliness if there are equally strong products in parallel.
Used clothes don’t always find a new owner
We buy and decommission about the same amount of clothing a year. That is, we put clothes in circulation or waste and buy new ones to replace. Thus, the market is constantly entering not only new clothes, which most of the clothes we buy are that used clothes.
In recycling clothes, we may have the illusion of comfort, which makes us think that the garment we put into circulation goes to a good purpose. Some go and is a real discovery and a good, ecological shopping for someone else. However, we put into circulation such a large amount of clothing, often of poor quality, that not everyone can find a new user here in Finland. Some continue their journey to the rest of the world, some are destined to become direct waste.
So we need to pay attention not only to buying, but also to the garment for decommissioning. The fact that the garment is put into circulation after its own short use does not make consumption sustainable. So it’s worth looking at what goes into circulation on its own, and why? If a lot of clothes go into circulation in the way of purchasing new clothes, recycling can only act as a green wash for overconsumption.
The life cycle decides ecology
The ecological nature of a garment is not ultimately determined by the environmental load it causes before the time of purchase, but by the entire life cycle. So it is in our own hands that determines how ecological clothes we ultimately have or do not have. The longer a garment lasts in use, the more ecological it becomes, considering its entire life cycle.
It may be that a trendy fast fashion garment has time to fall into the hands of more owners during its life cycle. However, considering its entire lifespan, it may still be a short-lived product even after a couple of rounds. The short-lived product, on the other hand, is quickly replaced with a new one, and the wear spiral remains rotating at overspeeds. What matters is not how many users the garment passes through, but how long it stays in use.
New or used, the mindset where clothes are quick-change, cheap commodities is ecologically unsustainable. In this case, we are still missing the fact that making clothes requires a lot of resources from both the environment and people, and they should therefore be valuable to us. Our experience with the value of clothing guides how we shop, take care of our clothing, and how we get rid of it. Without understanding the value of clothing, it is also difficult for us to perceive the ethically sustainable price of a new garment or to evaluate the benefits of garment repair.
Will there be any more vintage in the future?
On the second hand side you will also find the best examples of the value, quality and durability of the garment. Vintage clothing is highly valued for its good quality. Many of them also have nostalgia value. It is sad that so much textile waste remains in the world from our time, but much of the clothing we wear will not be able to withstand or be used by future generations. Even recycled.