The most sustainable clothes are the ones you love and get lots of use out of, not just sit in your closet. (Waste Management)

The most sustainable clothes are the ones you love and get lots of use out of, not just sit in your closet. (Waste Management)

Sustainable fashion: Go green and look good doing it

Before you buy resource-consuming new clothes, check to see if thrift shops have what you’re looking for.

  • By Karissa Jones Waste Management Northwest
  • Thursday, March 31, 2022 2:55pm
  • Life

By Karissa Jones / Waste Management Northwest

For most of us, it’s easy to identify ways to live more sustainably by using less water. This includes taking shorter showers and conserving water in how we care for our yards.

What is often overlooked is the “invisible” water footprint of the products we use every day. Using a personal shopping bag saves paper or plastic, and yet how much water and other natural resources are embedded in the shirt you just purchased?

It turns out, one of the most effective ways to go green is to reevaluate our relationship with clothing. Would you think twice about buying that new cotton shirt if you knew it took 700 gallons of water to produce it? That’s enough to fill 12 rain barrels!

Fortunately, being environmentally conscious does not mean we have to do away with little things that bring us joy, like the excitement of switching up a wardrobe. A greener closet starts with challenging yourself to consider important questions: Do I really need this? How long will I use it? Is this something I can borrow or get secondhand?

Many people have fond childhood memories of receiving hand-me-downs from older relatives. There was something exciting about pulling new-to-you shirts, shorts, and sweatshirts out of a bag, not knowing what to expect. Why let the fun stop after you’ve grown up?

This practice of passing along well-loved clothes is also a great way to change up your adult style – and do good by the planet. Gather friends for a clothing swap or pass around a bin of used clothes. Everyone contributes what they no longer wear and takes home some new clothes. What a deal!

Another resource to check out is your local Buy Nothing group on Facebook. These online communities allow you to give and receive gently used items.

When you’re ready to part with old clothes, it’s common to make a donation run to a local thrift shop. Have you considered what treasures you might find inside? Thrift shops offer countless styles and brands of clothes just waiting for you to discover. Before heading off to the mall or an online shop, stay awhile. You might find exactly what you need, at a fraction of the retail price.

Wondering what to do with an old shirt that has one too many holes or stubborn stains? Don’t throw it away! Repurpose it as a cleaning rag. Then, once it’s finally outlived its functional life and is ready to be retired, recycle into a new garment. Just take it to a specialty clothing recycler near you. You can search for drop-off locations at

When you can’t find what you need second hand and it’s necessary to buy new, think quality over quantity: what will last a long time, and is this something you’ll want to wear year over year? The most sustainable clothes are the ones you love and get lots of use out of, not just sit in your closet.

The good news is, while you’re thinking about ways to reduce the environmental footprint of your style, so is WM – in partnership with the clothing industry. WM is working with big brands and retailers to help find solutions to the problem of textiles ending up in landfills. Learn more by checking out WM’s 2022 Sustainability Forum.

WM’s local government partners are also exploring textile opportunities. In Snohomish County, in fact, WM is planning a textile recycling program pilot at multifamily properties. It’s all about reducing textile waste for our sustainable tomorrow.

Next time you reach for that new shirt on impulse, pause and ask yourself if you really need it. Chances are, a neighbor or thrift shop has just what you’re looking for. The planet will thank you.

Karissa Jones is Waste Management’s recycling education and outreach manager. Learn more tips for sustainability at

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