Wiederhold: Recycling the right way

Some people may associate thrift stores with poverty, cheap clothing or those artsy vintage fashion types. As for me, I love thrift stores because they are one of the most direct forms of recycling in which I can participate. I almost view thrift stores as a sort of successful rescue mission when I find – among some of the downright ugly junk one is bound to see – something wonderfully perfect and just right for me. It's like I've saved the newly purchased thrift store item from the world of not-belongingness, from the world of soon-to-be-entering-a-landfill. It's almost like the ending of Toy Story 3 – spoiler alert! – when the toys are given to a little girl.

All of us have probably, at one time or another, tossed perfectly functional clothes into the garbage – whether it was those pants that had a tiny hole we were too lazy to mend or that shirt that went out of style two weeks after we bought it. The average American throws away over 68 pounds of clothing, shoes and textiles each year – which amounts to a whopping annual total of 11.8 million tons of discarded apparel in the United States.

The manufacturing side of the clothing equation is pretty dismal as well. Like pretty much everything we do and everything we own, fashion unfortunately has an embarrassingly large carbon footprint and an adverse ecological impact. Polyester, which is the most widely used manufactured fiber, is made from petroleum in an energy-intensive process that consumes large amounts of crude oil and generates hazardous wastes such as volatile organic compounds. Cotton doesn't seem to be a whole lot better – it's one of the most water-intensive and pesticide-dependent crops, accounting for a quarter of all the insecticides used worldwide.

It's really quite surprising just how much stuff we make and throw away and I think any action that reduces the amount of trash we produce is worth taking. Donating those lightly-used articles of clothing that I just can't bring myself around to wearing anymore and purchasing other people's similarly abandoned clothing at thrift stores gives me a sense of satisfaction. It's not just about that happy feeling you get when you've gotten a really sweet deal on something you can wear with confidence – it's also about getting a little bit closer to the goal of living by the three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle).

It would be ideal if we could scale down on clothing manufacturing and rid ourselves of the idea that fashion is disposable. Thrift stores, at the very least, make me feel a little less of a part of an overly consumptive "throw-away" culture. I like to think that I can be a little greener while still enjoying new things – well, new old things, that is. I like to think that shopping at thrift stores not only makes economic sense but is environmentally friendly as well.