Material waste is a concept unique to the human species that puts the environment at risk, and in turn puts society in a dangerous position.
In a consumer-driven society, it’s hard to decide between what is “want” and what is “need.” The current ideals of society such as materialism and consumerism, tell us to buy more—and that it is ok to buy more, since there’s “always more where that came from.”
We have created a consumerism culture that affects the way we view products that are reusable and/or easily repaired. Since we have these underlying values imposed upon us, especially in America, we often think or our material goods as status symbols—if you have the newest car, the newest computer, then you must be a “good”/”contributing”/”well-off” citizen.
This mindset encourages the production of new goods, not for need but because it is a cultural status symbol without any thought to its environmental impact.
I think a cultural change is in order and a major shift in values, especially when it comes to something as simple as the shirt you wear on your back.
Clothing is something wasted that most often does not need to be. It’s reusable—rags, blankets, etc. if you no longer wish to wear them. However; clothing is also easily repairable, but no longer a cultural norm we practice in todays society. Often, people may get a rip, tear, or spill on an article of clothing and completely toss it.
A study found that: “In 2012, Americans created more than 14.3 million tons of textile waste.”
When you talk to our grandparents and look into the past, mending clothes was a common practice. Sewing was a skill that many people possessed because it was needed. People appreciated the true value of clothing because it cost more at the time– both in labor and time. Clothing wasn’t easily accessible or mass produced like in today’s society, which allows prices to be driven down. Before the mass production of clothes, when you had a piece of clothing you wore it (and repaired it) until you outgrew it.
I recently discovered a branch of Patagonia that is striving to encourage the repair of their gear and reduce overall waste.
Worn Wear operates a factory that will repair any and all gear through their lifetime guarantee and also teaches the public how to repair their own gear through tutorials. This repairing ideal extends the life of our material goods and re-instills the worth of our purchased goods.
According to Rose Marcario, President and CEO of Patagonia Inc, “These conditions create a society of product-consumers, not owners. And there’s a difference. Owners are empowered to take responsibility for their purchases—from proper cleaning to repairing, reusing and sharing. Consumers take, make, dispose and repeat—a pattern that is driving us towards ecological bankruptcy.”
Worn Wear is encouraging this new train of thought through a public campaign standpoint. On one hand they are educating about waste through the repairs but overall they are trying to make mending clothing a common practice by showcasing repaired products on their website, Instagram, and other social media platforms. While social media does have many downsides, I believe it does reflect and aid in creating new cultural norms and trends.
If large brands such as Patagonia can change the cultural mindset where new is seen as better, then waste would lessen. If we stop seeing material goods as a status symbol, we would be able to determine need from want. If we produce goods that are easily repairable, reusable, and recyclable, then we will decrease our contribution to the growing waste we produce.
Environmental change doesn’t just have to happen on a governmental level, it can start with individuals changing their overall mindset and views of common culture and society.
So next time you want to throw away that ripped shirt, ask your grandma if she can fix it, or better yet, pick up a needle and some thread.
Collegian Columnist Bridgette Windell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @Bridgette_Rae.