Secondhand stores are not only a stomping ground for killer deals and one-of-a-kind clothing, but also a refuge for countless items from landing in a garbage heap. Value Village, for example, saves more than 650 million pounds of clothing from landfills each year, making it one of the largest recyclers of used garments in the world. Their stores give a second life to 1.8 million pounds of clothes every day, which is equivalent to 600 mid-sized cars. Almost 100 percent of clothing and textiles are recyclable, yet 85 percent of it ends up in landfills. It’s estimated that the average person throws away 70 pounds of clothing a year.
Lindsay Coulter is the so-called “Queen of Green” with the David Suzuki Foundation, educating people on how to live a greener life by making changes around the house. She says that donating and shopping at thrift stores is an excellent way to exercise all three of the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle. “Thrifting is a great way to add to your repertoire of shopping before you consider buying something new,” she says. “Whether it’s a purse or a pair of shoes, it’s really worth considering going to thrift stores as another point of contact to help reduce your consumption.”
Coulter points out that since landfills are airtight, textiles take longer to break down. “I’d imagine things like an old towel, a rag or an old t-shirt will last a really long time,” she says. Polyester, spandex, nylon, and rayon are all considered non-biodegradable fabrics. Though they eventually decompose, it may take between 20 to 200 years to fully biodegrade these textiles. Coulter points out that the beauty of thrift shopping is that the supply is never-ending. Stock is constantly replenished, so if you don’t find what you’re looking for one day, it’s likely to show up in no time. “There’s always something new that you might not have discovered before,” she says.
Thrift shops also hold endless potential when it comes to DIY projects. They have countless items that can be repurposed, with the help of a tailor if need be, to make a completely new and unique piece of clothing on the cheap. “The possibilities are endless,” says Coulter. “It really allows you to use your creativity.”
One person who knows this quite well is Jodi Jacyk, costume specialist in the theatre and film department at the University of British Columbia. She says the majority of items for the university’s productions are purchased second-hand. Because of her shrinking budget, items like clothing and shoes are thrifted from Value Village. “We are constantly thrifting and we re-use costumes for many years. Some of them are 30 years old,” she says. The department often buys women’s blouses to repurpose into period pieces. “Thrift shopping is a much easier, cheaper way to do things,” she says. “If you’re putting on a show that’s set in the 1970s, vintage shopping is really the only way to go.”
The next time you need to lighten your closet – or just reinvent your look – take the opportunity to go thrift shopping to lighten both your carbon footprint and your financial burden at the same time.