Promoting Clothing Recycling at West Chester University

This week Planet Aid welcomes Juliette Honsinger as a guest contributor to our blog. Ms. Honsinger is a member of the E.A.R.T.H. Group, a student environmental organization at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. She writes about what her group is doing to promote recycling on campus.

This past spring E.A.R.T.H. Group decided to promote the idea of recycling clothing on campus. The inspiration for the event stemmed from concerns our group had about the detrimental effects of clothing production on the environment and unfair labor practices.

Consider cotton, the most popular material for apparel. Cotton agriculture is chemically intensive, accounting for 16 percent of global insecticide releases — more than any other crop worldwide. Additionally, cotton crops demand enormous amounts of water. Depending on the type of cotton, it may take 10 tons of water to grow the cotton to produce one pair of jeans. In addition, factory workers in countries where the clothing is being produced work under difficult and sometimes harmful conditions.

Globalization of the fashion industry has also resulted in clothing being produced at increasingly lower costs. Because of this, many consumers have come to think of clothing as "disposable." With every changing season, American consumers throw away massive amounts of clothing. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Solid Waste, the average American throws away 68 pounds of clothing per year, which constitutes four percent of all waste.

The Drop n' Swap

E.A.R.T.H. Group decided to hold a campaign that would help encourage clothing reuse, while also raising awareness to the idea of "fast fashion." We called our event a "Drop n' Swap." The "drop" aspect of the event took place over several weeks and was followed by a one-day "swap."

To make the "drop" as convenient as we could, we distributed about 15 clothing collection boxes to all the dormitories and academic buildings on campus. The idea was to encourage students to drop off unwanted clothing in the boxes as they moved out at the end of the school year. Because most students start packing up their things a few weeks before the semester ends, we decided to set the boxes out three weeks before the official last day of class.

A Surprising Quantity of Used Clothing

The amount of clothing we collected surprised us. Many of the donation boxes filled up within a few days after they had been set out. We borrowed dollies from the Student Union and wheeled the boxes over to our tiny 12 x 15 office. Within two weeks, we had amassed several tons of used clothing, which consumed our office, leaving us barely enough room to squeeze through the door.

The one-day "swap" event was open to all, and we invited both students and the larger community. We advertised the event during the preceding weeks in the student newspaper, on social media sites, e-mail, word-of-mouth, and by posting flyers promoting the event in all the academic buildings and dormitories. Several professors also helped out in the effort by e-mailing their lists of students an online version of the promotional flyer.

We also prepared a pamphlet about the effect of clothing waste on the environment and communities, and distributed the pamphlet during the swap to help raise greater consciousness to the need for recycling clothing and the impacts of fast fashion. This pamphlet was a fantastic supplement to the event. It provided a means of meaningful dialogue throughout the event time and included Internet links for more information.

A Wholesale Success

About one hundred people sifted through the donations at the swap. Afterwards, we had about half a ton of clothes remaining, or about one quarter of the original donations. Thankfully, a company named Wearable Collections contacted our group and offered to bring a large truck to pick up the leftover clothing to recycle into new clothing products. They even compensated our group by donating a few cents per pound of clothing. This made it incredibly easy for our group to clean up the leftover items and to clear the office of the items on the same day. The clothing that we could not give to Wearable Collections, like some plastic accessories and shoes, we donated to the local Salvation Army.

Our event took many hours of planning and effort, but it was surprisingly easy. Only about ten members planned, piloted and executed the whole project. Not only did the event bring over one hundred members of the campus community together under a common cause, it showed what the efforts of a small group of dedicated people could do.

Future Plans

E.A.R.T.H Group plans to host the event again, but this time with more extensive planning to make it even bigger. By getting more people and possibly more student organizations involved, we will work toward our goal of making the "Drop n' Swap" a campus tradition.

My suggestion to anyone wishing to hold a similar event is to reach out to the community as much as possible for help. The event is a great way to get people interested in clothing recycling and to build awarenessabout the local and global issue related to fast fashion. Not only is waste reduced, but local charities appreciate the donations!

—Juliette Honsinger