How To Stop Wishcycling and Reduce Clothing Waste in 6 Simple Steps

Woman folds collection of tops and blue jeans

Once again, it’s time for an annual spring cleaning and you notice your closet is overflowing with clothes you don’t wear. You have some pre-pandemic pieces that are now a tight fit. And a company t-shirt from your old job that you just can’t stand wearing as pajamas anymore. Don’t forget that edgy skirt you bought at the mall when you got a little overexcited at a winter holiday sale. Now you’re stuck with clothes that don’t spark joy or reflect your real style.

How do you get rid of this clothing without throwing it in the trash?

You’re not even sure about the correct way to recycle plastics…so recycling your old clothes is as clear as mud.

You haul all your unwanted clothes in garbage bags to the nearest Goodwill or charity shop. Unsure, you leave the bags with the staff already sorting through mountains of clothes.

Now with that weight off your shoulders, you breathe a sigh of relief.

You did the right thing, right? 

Does this annual clothing purge make you…a wishcycler?

The short answer is, yes. 

What Is Wishcycling?

Wishcycling or aspirational recycling is when you leave garments in a recycling or donation bin, hoping they won't end up in a landfill. We’ve all been guilty of wishcycling at some point. 

People do this because:

  • They don't have all the information on how to recycle unwanted clothes in their area.
  • They want the instant gratification of getting rid of old clothes.
  • They believe, "If I donate, I’m doing good for my community and the environment."

But donating clothes doesn't always mean they're kept out of landfills.

Often, donating means someone else is dumping your clothes in landfills for you. Either the thrift shop owners after your items don't sell, or the communities in the Global South to whom we export our textile waste for profit.

Used clothing hangs on thrift store racks

Where Are You Really Sending Your Donated Clothes?

The reality is, the majority of clothes left at secondhand shops don't make it to the store racks for resale. Damaged and discarded clothing creates up to 11.3 million tons of fabric waste in U.S. landfills every year.

So where does our unwanted clothing go? U.S. companies will export most of this textile waste abroad for profit where it's resold in markets.

But exporting clothing waste is not a recycling solution.

In Accra, Ghana, the Kantamanto Market overflows with used clothing imported from the U.S. At least 40% of all the clothing is unsuitable for resale and immediately thrown away.

So if donating isn't the most sustainable option, what else can you do with your clothes?

Recycling clothing the right way can be confusing. Instead, here are easy steps you can take to help reduce your clothing waste and avoid wishcycling today.

6 Easy Steps to Reduce Your Clothing Waste

1. Wear Clothes You Already Own

The most sustainable fashion choice you can make is to wear the clothes you own and wear them often. One major benefit is that it's FREE. You spend $0 when you shop in your own closet. Get creative with your existing collection of garments. Mix and match neutral colors or throw on a statement jacket to add some flair. The easiest way to reduce fabric waste is to wear what you already own. This helps lower the demand for new clothes to be made and the amount of used clothes in circulation — helping the environment and your wallet.

2. Care For Your Clothes

You should value your clothes and take care of them. Mend clothing when needed.

There are plenty of tutorials online that can teach you basic sewing skills. That way, you don’t have to throw away your favorite soft, cozy hoodie after the pocket has started to tear. Or trash your go-to pair of jeans that only needs a little patching up. You can find small sewing kits at most craft stores. 

It's also good practice to wash clothing on gentle cycles, reduce washes, and air dry when possible. Keep garments hung up in clean and dry places and not crumpled in the bottom of an old box or drawer. Caring for your clothes helps them last longer and keeps them out of landfills.

Hands wring water out of white and blue cloth

3. Upcycle Your Clothes Into Something New

If you have stained or damaged clothing, you can salvage and upcycle the usable parts. Turn old t-shirts into reusable kitchen towels or cleaning rags. Add some small embroidery to bring them back to life. Easily transform your clothes into a new scrunchie or even reusable beeswax wraps. Or if you're the ambitious type, learn how to make your own one-of-a-kind, patchwork denim jacket out of old jeans. You can find plenty of ideas online for how to turn your old clothes into new items and reduce fabric waste. 

4. Search for Free Clothing 

If you're in need of a clothing item, try searching for it for free online before choosing to buy. With social media, it’s now easier than ever to find free stuff online. Buy Nothing Facebook Groups are popular for finding used clothing for free in your local area. All you have to do is search “Buy Nothing Group + your city or zip code” and join to start browsing free secondhand clothes and other items. It's like a free yard sale, all from the comfort of your living room couch. You'll be surprised by what you can find for free online.

5. Buy Clothing Secondhand

If Buy Nothing Groups don't have the clothing item you're looking for, check out your local thrift shop.

Places online where you can also find secondhand clothes are:

  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Ebay
  • Depop
  • Vinted
  • Thredup
  • Poshmark
  • Mercari

Take your time browsing and buy with intention. Ask yourself before you buy something if it is a genuine need or a want. Is the vintage piece high-quality and durable? Is it an item you'll cherish and be willing to mend over the years? Find clothing that you’ll love and wear for a long time.

6. Invest in Lifetime Pieces

So what happens when you DO need to buy new? Maybe you've searched everywhere online and in local thrift stores and you still can't find the item you need. Or you might be looking to refresh your wardrobe with timeless staples. Consider investing in high-quality, forever garments. Clothes made to last and that don't expire. 

When you buy enduring items, they won’t fall apart even after many years. So you’re less likely to throw them away and add to the growing textile waste problem. You can take it one step further and shop organic and fair trade, like Passion Lilie garments, for sustainable pieces that are effortless to style.

Buy well-made clothes that you love so you don’t fall into the wishcycling trap.

Looking for lifetime garments to add to your wardrobe? You can check out our timeless designs here.

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