Consumer fashion is consuming the climate. Fashion in America is a large outlet of behavior that is dangerous for the climate. It is not what we wear; it is how long we wear it. As the early spring clothing sales begin, take a look into America’s closets and America’s landfills. According to a Sept. 1, 2016 Newsweek article, annual American clothing waste the prior year produced an equivalent amount of emissions to driving 7.3 million cars for a year.

Clothing waste? Really? How much can what you wear contribute to climate change? Well, it turns out, a lot. Consumerism in America is a huge pillar of society. 

The societal need for more has never been greater and more detrimental. A pair of denim jeans takes around 700 gallons of water to make, and the water used comes from countries with histories of clean water scarcity, according to an NPR story from April of last year . People in the United States spend around $250 billion on clothing every year, and a large percentage of that comes via the fast-fashion market.

The folds of that fun yellow leather mini skirt from H&M hide ecologically dangerous repercussions. The fast fashion industry is growing and producing clothing using cheap fibers that can be only be reduced by the shopper choosing other items to purchase, as these clothes cannot be reused or recycled. Fast fashion comes from clothing stores such as Uniqlo, H&M, Forever 21 and Primark. The prices are too cheap for consumers of trendy styles to pass by. According to a John Oliver special from April 2015, H&M boasted of their ability to design, build and sell a product within a two-week span, from designer to consumer. Many people only wear a cheap, fast fashion item three or four times, according to the same Newsweek article. 

This is not enough: We must become more conscious of our waste production and begin waste reduction. Recycling is an important part of sustainable systems, but to lower the problematic emissions and the landfills consisting of fashion waste, we must reduce and reuse.

Let’s propose the start of the reusing generation. It will not be hard, because change and success are within reach. Beginning with reducing, we must work to only shop and purchase items that are quality goods. Not only will better-quality clothes last us longer, but their fibers can also be recycled into new items. Reducing our consumer intake will take effort. We must put less money into fast fashion and look for quality over quantity. According to an Aug. 17 Chicago Tribune article, out of 16.22 million tons of clothing waste produced last year, only 2.62 million tons ended up being recycled into commercially sold fiber. This number is partly due to the low quality of clothes purchased, which may rip after their third or fourth wash, thereby limiting the potential for reusing garments.

Clothing donation companies such as Goodwill, Salvation Army and other collection stores are overflowing with inventory. Too many donations from people and institutions forces companies to sell the clothing as a material resource in cubic tons to either incinerators or recyclers. With the increasingly poor quality of clothing, just a fraction of that can be remade into rags and denim. With nowhere for all this clothing waste to go, it sits in landfills taking hundreds of years to decompose and emits dangerous petroleum-based chemicals into the air. A single nylon shirt can take around 50 years to degrade. The waste here is astronomical.

What can you do as a conscious consumer? It is not enough to simply stop buying large quantities of cheap clothing. Let’s kick small-quantity personal reusing into action. Look to purchase from companies that work hard to make sure that they are positively affecting the climate and global population, make use of ethically sourced materials, and produce clothes made for the long haul.

Stop making uncalculated purchases. Think of your shopping as climate activism. Buy quality clothing, either worn or new pieces, that will last longer than fast fashion. Buy timeless pieces that can be worn for many seasons. Shop at thrift stores. They are becoming the new normal and now exist online. Be mindful of questionably low-priced garments; these clothes might not be as reusable as others.

Clothing waste is a problem that can be easily fixed. The switch to consuming fewer textiles is an easy one that all of us can take on. Buy what you need, make purchases that put your money toward climate-respectful companies and check vintage and second-hand stores whenever possible. Then take the money you save and put it toward assisting others to do the same. Be climate aware in what you wear.