Eco-gesture of the day – Take 8: Second-hand clothes!

Second-hand clothes are awesome. I don’t feel a need to support that with any evidence, so I won’t. In addition to being awesome, pre-owned clothes offer a surprising number of benefits to the environment, society, and your wallet.

While it is well-known that buying second-hand is much cheaper than buying new (often up to 10 times cheaper), the other intangible benefits are less well known. Many people do not consider what materials go into making new clothing, but the numbers are pretty astonishing:

  • 1/3 pound: Chemicals used to grow enough cotton for one T-shirt;
  • 47%: Percentage of those chemicals that are human carcinogens;
  • 20,000 liters: Water needed to produce 1 kg of cotton;
  • 66648 kWh: Energy needed to make one tonne of cotton clothing;
  • 91508 kWh: Energy needed to make one tonne of polyester clothing;
  • 68 pounds: Clothing thrown away by an American in one year.

Giving a piece of clothing a second chance avoids the use of the above chemicals, water, and energy. It is estimated that the embodied energy of second-hand clothing (from collection and distribution of the donated clothing) is only 1697 kWh/tonne. That’s 97.4% less energy than it takes to produce a tonne of new cotton clothing.

The social benefits are no less impressive. You can be sure that any garment you buy second-hand is not directly supporting sweatshop practices. When you buy from a thrift store, you’re money is helping a charitable cause or needy families, strengthening your local community.

Whether it be the millions of nonconformist high school and college kids putting together an eclectic and statement-making outfit or professionals looking for inexpensive work clothes, many people are beginning to realize the social, environmental, and financial benefits of buying second-hand. The widely variety of second-hand clothes ensures that anyone can find something useful. As more people realize the benefits, the stigma of buying used clothing is rapidly disappearing.

Just in time for Christmas, be sure to check out Baad Sheep for some great sweaters and captivating, often unbelievable stories of how those sweaters came to be. For all your other second-hand clothing needs, visit your local thrift or consignment store, and be sure to donate your used clothing to any organizations such as Goodwill.

For more information, check out these sources:

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/10/recycled-tee-shirts.php?daylife=1

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/06/lca_salvation_army.php

http://planetgreen.discovery.com/go-green/wardrobe/wardrobe-organic-clothing-statistics.html