Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall. 

We all have those clothes that just sit in the back of our closets for years and never get used. Maybe it’s that t-shirt from college or that sentimental, but totally ugly scarf that grandma gave us for Christmas.

This week, Luci Jones and Marin Warshay from our Possibly Team looked into what to do with the clothing you don’t want anymore. 

Luci Jones: Hi, Megan! 

Marin Warshay: Hey there!

Megan Hall: So I have this old sweater that’s been sitting in the back of my closet for as long as I can remember. What should I do with it?

Luci Jones: That’s a great question, and there are a lot of different potential answers depending on the context!

Marin Warshay: To get an expert opinion, we talked to the folks at Helpsy, the largest clothing collector in the Northeast.

Luci Jones: They have over 2,200 bins all over New England where people can drop-off their old clothes. Jessica Rennard, the Head of E-Commerce, describes the company like this:

Jessica Rennard:

Our mission is to keep clothing out of the trash. We are here to divert clothing from landfill, and we do that by bringing all of our collections into various warehouses on the east coast, sorting it into ways that we can further extend the life cycle of those garments

Megan Hall: What does she mean by life cycle?  

Marin Warshay: Basically just the “life” of the clothing—from when it’s made to when it’s thrown away. 

Megan Hall: How much clothing do people really throw away? 

Luci Jones: A lot- on average Americans get rid of around 100 pounds of clothing per person per year and one study in the UK found that women only wear their clothes an average of 7 times before throwing them away. 

Megan Hall: Are you kidding me? - Seven times?

Marin Warshay: Yep, and it’s causing a lot of problems. First, some clothing can take nearly two centuries to break down in the landfill. 

Luci Jones: During that time, clothes leach harmful chemicals, microplastics, and dyes into the groundwater and soil and release methane, a greenhouse gas.

Marin Warshay: Plus, making all those clothes emits a lot of carbon dioxide and also releases all sorts of nasty chemicals.

Megan Hall: But, I mean, we all need to wear clothes. 

Luci Jones: True, but Lauren Fay, the Director of Strategic Partnerships at Helpsy, says most people have more clothes than they really need.

Lauren Fay:

The things that are considered basics that we wear every day, that some people have 

literally a hundred of, you know, I definitely know people who have that many jeans. They're incredibly taxing on the environment. 

Marin Warshay: She says, reusing and repurposing our clothes can cut down on some of those harms.

Luci Jones: When people donate their clothes, about 95% of the items are actually reusable or recyclable. 

Marin Warshay: Keeping those materials “alive” cuts down on the impacts of throwing them away or making new clothes.  

Megan Hall: Okay, so let’s get back to my sweater. If throwing it in the landfill is a bad idea, what are my other options?

Luci Jones: Lauren and Jessica say it could go a couple different ways.

Marin Warshay: If the sweater is still in pretty good shape, you can donate it to a thrift shop or sell it to a consignment store. 

Luci Jones: If you’re crafty, you can also turn it into something else, like a purse, or leg warmers. Maybe a dog sweater?  

Megan Hall: That’s too much work for me!

Marin Warshay: Ok, If you want to keep it simple, you can also leave it at a clothing collection spot, like Helpsy’s dropboxes, and they’ll take care of it for you.

Megan Hall: But this sweater is pretty tattered. I’m not sure anyone would want to rewear it.

Luci Jones: You should still donate it! It can be downcycled into something else, like cleaning rags or housing insulation.

Marin Warshay: But even if you don’t use a service like Helpsy, there are things you can do to cut down on clothing waste. 

Luci Jones: Swap clothes with friends or buy second-hand.

Marin Warshay: And, if you can, buy higher quality items that will last longer.

Luci Jones: Also, purchase with purpose. Only buy what you really need and what you know you’ll actually use.

Megan Hall: Got it! Thanks, Luci and Marin 

That’s it for today. For more information, or to ask a question about the way your choices affect our planet, go to the public’s radio dot org slash possibly. Or subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts.

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Possibly is a co-production of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown’s Climate Solutions Initiative, and the Public’s Radio.