12/23/2016 02:35 EST | Updated 12/23/2016 02:35 EST

Let's Work Towards A Zero-Waste Future By Creating A Culture Of Reuse

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Teenagers donating clothes to charity

The average American or Canadian throws away between 33 and 65 pounds of clothing per year, while the fashion industry is the second highest polluting industry in the world.

How many of you have ever purchased an expensive outfit, only for it to be worn once and thereafter sit in your closet, never to be seen again? Guilty as charged. Thanks to the rise of social media resulting in a pervasive and all-knowing digital audience, as well as the constantly changing world of fashion, most women spend a fortune purchasing 'one-time wear' outfits. I myself have done this countless times. However, we often do not realize quite how much we are throwing away.

In the United States, a survey revealed that while consumers believed that they threw away an average of 4.7 trash bags of clothing every year, in actuality they were wasting close to double that amount, equating to over 2.6 billion pounds of trash going straight into land fills.

In light of the massive amount of waste produced annually, we as a global community need to rethink our approach to consumption and increasingly shift our mindset from a linear "take, make, and dispose" school of thought to "reduce, reuse, and recycle," thus creating a circular, self-perpetuating economy.

This involves taking anything that was once consumed by a few or a single individual and instead sharing it with a larger group, often with the help of technology. In some ways, reuse can be more impactful than recycling in contributing to environmental sustainability, because it reduces the need for manufacturing additional resources.

In other words, reuse is a critical action in the circular economy by helping to keep items out of landfills. According to Savers, the second-hand used clothing shop, awareness regarding and practices of recycling have expanded rapidly over the past few years while understanding of the concept of "reuse" has not.

You don't have to overhaul your entire lifestyle. Start small, by taking a look at your own closet.

One of the main barriers preventing consumers from engaging in the cycle of reuse are common misperceptions about what can and cannot be reused or repurposed. Savers gathered data from 3,000 North Americans in a nation-wide survey. Shockingly, one in three people stated that donating could be inconvenient and it was easier to simply throw out their old clothing. Moreover, a third had no idea that 90 per cent of textiles can be recycled or repurposed. Many were unaware on how to donate, or that it could even be done!

Thankfully, the majority of those interviewed in the Savers survey had good intentions and wanted to "do better", despite not knowing how to go about doing so. Overall, 74 per cent stated that they would donate their clothing if they know where to donate, and if donation centres made the process easier. There is an opportunity for organizations with similar environmental visions to make the donation and recycling process easier, incentivised, and more accessible, for example by rewarding consumers who drop off used clothing for repurposing with store credit.

We should also be educating people on how to reuse and recycle. Over half of the respondents in the Savers survey reported that they would be more likely to reuse goods after learning about the environmental impact of clothing manufacturing.

There are many opportunities to enact change as we work towards a zero-waste future. You don't have to overhaul your entire lifestyle. Start small, by taking a look at your own closet. Instead of throwing out bags of clothing when you want a wardrobe makeover, you can donate your unwanted clothes to a non-profit organization like Value Village or by dropping them off to H&M's global garment program.

Instead of buying brand new clothing, you could support the circular, sharing economy by buying from second-hand clothing stores or renting one-time use outfits from companies like Rent frock Repeat. You could also consider swapping/sharing with people you know, or re-sell your clothing online. These clothes will get a few more 'wears' out of them, do not need to be shipped or manufactured, and stay out of landfills for longer.

Outside of clothing, you can make a conscious effort to buy goods with less packaging or made from recycled content, choose to buy reusable and refillable products or purchase in bulk. Each action makes a difference, no matter how small--for example, even bringing your own bag to grocery stores!

By actively participating in a sharing economy, we can help to reduce waste, pollution, and water and energy scarcity, all of which are increasingly critical issues. I, for one, will be taking a long, hard, look at my closet and how much of my clothing I'm really, truly getting use out of. As we move forward into 2017, we should focus less on consuming and more on embracing the sharing circular economy.

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