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The Problem with Our Clothes in Landfills
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 84 percent of unneeded clothing ends up in landfills or incinerators.[i] On account of this, we should note that although almost everyone grows too big to fit into their clothes or decides to disregard them again, clothes shouldn’t be mindlessly thrown into the trash; they can end up in landfills which can have negative side effects such as pollution and other forms of damage to our environment.
Much of the clothing made today is made of synthetic polyester because it is cheaper and stronger than other alternatives. Although saving money is great for everyone, clothes made of artificial materials like these can take hundreds to a thousand years to biodegrade. This characteristic of the textile causes its waste to remain in landfills for extended periods of time.
We shouldn’t ignore clothes made of natural materials either. Jason Kibby, the CEO of Sustainable Apparel Coalition, brought to our attention the fact that these textiles undergo “a lot of unnatural processes” to become clothing.[ii] These include, but are not limited to, bleaching and dying.[iii] Because of these processes, clothes that are contained in improperly sealed landfills can reach our groundwater.[iv] Kibbey isn’t the only one aware of this issue.
Kirstie Pecci from the Conservative Law Foundation gives us more evidence for how keeping clothes in landfills can be harmful. She explains how certain precautions are required for working landfills, but they are still “vulnerable to leaks”.[v] For example, two somewhat-useful plastic liners are required to be between the waste and the soil beneath it, and the landfills are topped with a half-decent plastic cap to prevent rain and snow from entering.[vi] These caps prove to be futile because Pecci mentions that they develop holes over time.[vii] Because water in these landfills become extremely toxic, they are redirected through pipes that are meant to draw it away, but they eventually fail and cause leakage near bodies of water.[viii] These bodies of water essentially become a waste dump for leaking landfills. If this was happening to a source of water near you, wouldn’t you want to do something about it?
You may assume that the amount of clothes in landfills are very limited.
That is Incorrect.
The EPA said that with clothes as the main source for municipal solid waste (MSU), landfills received 10.5 million tons of it in 2015.[ix] As crazy as that sounds, it is the sad reality of the number of clothes we dispose each year. In fact, the amount of waste landfills receive seems to increase every year. Back in 1960, 1,710,000 tons of MSU was landfilled.[x] More recently in 2015, 10,530,000 tons of MSU was landfilled.[xi] With this increase in landfilled waste, we need to start thinking about the number of clothes that are contributing to polluting our environment.
Planet Aid also points out the scientific aspects of how we could be polluting our environment with the disposal of clothing. They explicate the process of anaerobic digestion caused by microorganisms, and how they feed on anything in landfills.[xii] A major consequence of this is the release of methane when clothing is decomposed in landfills.[xiii] This is harmful because methane is a greenhouse gas that is far worse for the atmosphere than carbon is. Although methane created in these landfills can be captured for heat and electrical use, as mentioned before, the pipes in landfills are susceptible to leaks which can lead to the release of these harmful toxins into the atmosphere.[xiv]
Why does all this matter? Why am I explaining the detrimental effects of the disposal of clothes in landfills? I believe we need to see a change in how we take care of our old and unwanted clothing. There should be no reason why it would be hard to give them to people in need. This is one option. Another simple way we can prevent our old clothes from landing in landfills is by taking them to recycling plants. These places are becoming more numerous, and they accept almost all type of clothing.
What is my purpose? What do I believe would make the greatest impact to solve this issue? I suggest that we need to teach our communities about the harmful effects of improper clothing disposal, and the benefits of proper disposal. Much like how we are taught to refrain from littering, whether it’s from a PSA or a billboard ad, we should educate the public to do the same with the act of throwing away clothing.
I do acknowledge that it is difficult to get every city to participate in this, but it is my goal to grab the attention of our public to take this message seriously. With this new knowledge, everyone should have a much better understanding of how to keep our earth green.
Where would this money come from? Surely, environmentalist would be happy to donate some money to keep our environment in good condition. Although it sounds easy, it is not a simple solution to ask people to donate their hard-earned money. I would have to conduct meetings to convince potential donors to help end this public issue. After all, we do want to see that 84 percent of clothing ending up in landfills and incinerators to decrease as much as possible.
[i] Textiles: Material-Specific Data. (2018, July 17). Retrieved from epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/textiles-material-specific-data
[ii] Wicker, A. (2017, March 16). The earth is covered in the waste of your old clothes. Retrieved from newsweek.com/2016/09/09/old-clothes-fashion-waste-crisis-494824.html
[iii] Ibid., 2017.
[iv] Ibid., 2017.
[v] All Landfills Leak, and Our Health and Environment Pay the Toxic Price. (2018, July 23). Retrieved from
[vi] Ibid., 2010.
[vii] Ibid., 2010.
[viii] Ibid., 2010.
[ix] Textiles: Material-Specific Data, 2018.
[x] Ibid., 2018.
[xi] Ibid., 2018.
[xii] Blog. (n.d.). Retrieved from planetaid.org/blog/the-gas-from-your-clothes
[xiii] Ibid., n.d..
[xiv] Ibid., n.d..