Treat Yourself—and the Environment—to a Higher-Quality Shirt

That $8 shirt is the pop of color you want for your fun weekend event—and if it only lasts a season, that’s OK, because it’s so cheap, right? Maybe you’re thinking you’ll just toss it and replace it with another one when it fades or stretches out, and you’ll still be ahead, because some T-shirts are downright pricey.

Of course you could do that. But, here’s another thought:

Buy a higher-quality shirt, treat it gently, and keep it for several years rather than replacing it every year. If you wash it in cold water and hang it to dry, it will last longer, and you’ll save energy (and money) and reduce greenhouse emissions at the same time. You’ll also keep those would-be replacement shirts out of the landfill. This is a big deal: According to CalRecycle’s statewide waste characterization study, more than 1.2 million tons of textiles, including clothing, went to California landfills in 2014.

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In addition, by washing one shirt over a few years rather than several shirts successively, after one or two washes you’ll have eliminated a lot of the chemicals possibly used to dye that shirt. After those initial washes, you won’t be wearing those chemicals against your skin, and you won’t be releasing chemicals from multiple garments into the local public works system.

How do you know if you’re looking at a shirt that will hold up well, or if you’re just paying too much for a poorly made shirt that you’ll have to replace soon anyway? Learn to spot quality by checking the cut, the fabric, and the seams. Some clothing manufacturers even offer warranties. If they do, let them know if their clothes don’t hold up so they can improve their products in the future.

If you just can’t bring yourself to pay top dollar for higher-quality clothing, consider your local consignment store, such as Crossroads Trading Co., or an online secondhand store like ThredupUnion & Fifth, or Poshmark. That way, you can get nice clothes for a bargain price, and since they are already used, you don’t have to worry about wearing, or washing out, dangerous chemicals. On the other hand, sometimes you’ll find clothing at secondhand stores, both in your neighborhood and online, that’s new with the tags still attached—and that’s quite a bargain.

At some point, even well-made clothing reaches the end of its useful life. Then, you have some choices.

A few communities have separate recycling bins for textiles or clothing donation boxes throughout town. Donating clothing to a thrift store is also a good idea—just make sure it’s clean and dry. Even if it’s stretched out, stained, and full of holes, Goodwill makes every effort to put used clothing to its best, highest use rather than into a landfill. If you have clothes that are in good shape but just didn’t work out for you for some reason, you could sell them to local or online consignment stores.

More than 90 percent of the clothing that goes to California landfills is reusable or recyclable. Old clothing can easily be recycled intoauto rags, industrial wiping rags, furniture stuffing, and even insulation. But make no mistake: No matter where in California you live, once your old shirt is in your garbage bin, it is on its way to the landfill—no one is going to pull it out for recycling along the way. 

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So buy the nice shirt, treat it well, and enjoy it for a long time. When it’s time to part ways, send it on a new adventure worthy of its high quality, rather than to a garbage heap.

— Heather Jones
Posted on May 8, 2017

Summary: That $8 shirt is the pop of color you want for your fun weekend event—and if it only lasts a season, that’s OK, because it’s so cheap, right? Maybe you’re thinking you’ll just toss it and replace it with another one when it fades or stretches out, and you’ll still be ahead, because some T-shirts are downright pricey.