Recycling isn’t limited to paper and plastic, clothing waste becoming an increasing problem

‘Throwaway’ culture is becoming more of a problem as fast fashion companies continue selling cheap, inexpensive clothing

New Years is less than a month away and picking out that perfect party outfit is next up on the to-do list. Most will head to Shein, Forever 21 or H&M for a cheap find, but isn’t there a better alternative to buying from these fast fashion industries who contribute to the overgrowing clothing waste?

CBS news revealed there has been a five-fold increase in the amount of clothing Americans buy over the last three decades. On average, researchers reported each item is worn only an average of seven times.

Americans throw away about 80 pounds of clothes every year with only 13.6% of clothes and shoes actually being recycled. Globally, 12% of the material used for clothing ends up being recycled.

Paper, glass and plastic bottles have recycling rates of 66%, 27% and 29% respectively in the U.S. according to BBC. When being concerned with the recycling of plastics, it might be a good idea to consider recycling or repurposing unwanted clothes as well.

Jaeha Lee, a NDSU Professor and Apparel, Retail Merchandising and Design Program Coordinator, says fast fashion created the “throwaway” culture. Consumers are purchasing more impulsively from fast fashion brands because they are trendy and cheap.

“Since the garments are inexpensive and poorly made, consumers discard them after a few wears,” Lee said. “This culture made a huge contribution to increasing textile wastes, which are already a significant portion of landfills. Fast fashion brands are unlikely to pay fair wages to their factory workers who are mostly located overseas to keep their prices lower. They also force their workers to work overtime for quick turnover.”

Business of Fashion released a report on Shein’s violation of labor laws on Nov. 12, 2021. In Guangzhou, Shein’s headquarters, they found some manufacturers in informal factories set up in residential buildings where windows had been barred with no emergency exists in sight; conditions that violate Chinese labor laws.

Workers told researchers they sewed for 12 hours a day, working 75 hours a week and only received one day off a month. At a Shein packing facility in Foshan, workers also said they worked 12 to 14-hour days and up to 28 days a month. According to Chinese labor laws, workweeks cannot exceed 40 hours, and overtime cannot exceed 36 hours per month.

With a strong social media presence, Shein’s target audience is women aged between 16 and 35. The brand also caters to men and children.

“Fast fashion is designed to target young consumers who want trendy and inexpensive clothing,” Lee said. “These are easily adopted by college students who have limited financial resources and want to be fashion-forward.”

So, what is a better alternative to buying from these fast fashion industries? The saying “quality over quantity” speaks truth when it comes to purchasing clothes.

Consumers should consider buying from retailers who sell high-quality clothing so they can wear it longer. You can buy one quality t-shirt that lasts for years instead of 10 t-shirts that last only for a few months. These retailers can pay fair wages to their workers since quality is more important than price. Some retailers provide customers with repair services to encourage them to use their products longer.

Patagonia is a great example as they are transparent about where and how their garments are made. To check out this information, visit check out

Several years ago, Patagonia put a Black Friday ad in The New York Times that said “Don’t Buy this Shirt” to call attention to the overconsumption of clothing garments. It is their hope that this headline will prompt as many people as possible to read the full ad, then go to their website to take the Common Threads Initiative pledge.

Although some companies may seem to follow in the footsteps of Patagonia, they might actually be using a marketing trick called greenwashing; making consumers believe that their companies are sustainable.

Lee says fast fashion brands are using this marketing trick by launching ”organic” and “environmentally-friendly” product lines and heavily focusing on these products in marketing. However, as long as they produce disposable garments that create textile wastes, they cannot be considered sustainable companies.

In 2019, H&M launched its own line of “green” clothing titled “Conscious.” The company claims to use “organic” cotton and recycled polyester. However, this is merely an example of the greenwashing marketing tactic used to make themselves appear more environmentally friendly

The Federal Trade Commission provides loose guidelines for greenwashing. According to the Daily Orange, there is not a single legal definition for marketing-friendly words such as “sustainable,” “green” or “environmentally-friendly” meaning companies are legally able to get away with misrepresentation.

With little help from the FTC, people can help to combat fast fashion in various ways.

Shopping from sustainable and ethical fashion brands, buying clothes less often, buying higher quality clothes, donating and selling used clothing, buying second-hand clothing and recycling and repurposing garments are some ways to help better the environment.

In Fargo, residents can take their unwanted clothes to Elendu Textile LLC, a textile and fabric recycling company.
The company partners with clothing brands, retailers and other recyclers to advance the awareness of the growing need to recycle textiles and to encourage and support a culture that practices reuse.

To do this, they created a program called “Green By Pound”. The program encourages everyone to bring in their used/unwanted textiles in exchange for money.

“We weigh your textiles and pay for them by the pound. We then sort and bale these textiles and export them overseas for reuse,” Elendu Textile LLC wrote on their website.

For more information, visit the companies website at

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