This misconception was based on my own personal experience growing up. My sister, Debra, and I did not come from a family of means. We have 8 siblings and most of our childhood clothing shopping was done at the Goodwill. Shopping at the mall or big department stores was simply out of reach for my parents’ budget or our own paper route money. As I researched information for this article, I was shocked to discover only 10-15% of donated clothing, in the USA, ends up actually being sold in the second-hand market. As I followed the paths that old clothes might take, once they leave our hands, I discovered that there is a lot of misinformation out there. My hope is this article helps you make better decisions on your own clothing consumption and disposal methods for not only your maternity items (black maternity skirt, postpartum compression shorts, gap nursing bra etc) but all your textile items.
Why do we even care if clothing ends up in landfill? Clothing in landfill can sit there for 200 plus years and as it decomposes, it emits methane—a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon. As I mentioned, even if you donate your clothing, much of it gets packed, shipped, and re-sold overseas or gets dumped in landfills anyway. Think of your favorite specialty items, that maternity swimsuit you used for lap swimming, the padded maternity biker shorts or your nursing swimsuit you lived in during the summer months. That bravado basics nursing bra, your pregnancy support shorts or chic black maternity turtleneck that you wore to pieces will rarely have a 2nd life. Your basics such as your maternity skirt, maternity bike shorts, maternity joggers, nursing sweatshirt and maternity tank tops may have a better chance of finding a home if you explore reselling them yourself rather than donating to goodwill.
Right now, less than 1% of donated clothing is recycled into new yarns and fibers. New technologies, like chemical recycling (which separates raw materials from dyes, elastics, etc. for effective use as new textiles) are showing encouraging progress, but we have a long way to go until they’re fully developed and put into mainstream practice. Yes, the plastic nursing clips from your bras can be repurposed. It is also possible to separate that film on your leak proof nursing bra or nursing pads from the fabric. The technology is amazing. It just needs wider distribution to be accessible and cost effective for all.
So, what are some simple things you can do?
CONSIDER RENTING OR SWAPPING CLOTHING
I get it. It’s hard to transition those perfectly fitting pregnancy jeans beyond pregnancy, although I do think of them fondly around the holidays as I’m chowing down on a Thanksgiving feast and telling myself...just one more bite of that pumpkin pie. The postpartum lounge pants and lounge t shirt became my new uniform in the early weeks. Quite a few of the clothing items I wore, like my grey maxi dress and nursing jumpsuit weren't even a maternity items. They were just cut in such a way I could repurpose them. I still wear them as staple items in my wardrobe even though my youngest is now 6.
Moving beyond basics tht you will live in or can repurpose beyond pregnancy and postpartum, the mantra “fewer, better things”, can be a challenge for anyone who likes to be on-trend, particularly when you are dressing a growing or receding bump for only a few months. Consider using a rental platform like Rent the Runway. Did you know they now carry maternity clothing? Renting those “must have” $250 pregnancy jeans or that cute designer dress may make more sense than buying these items flat out. You may also find, the habit of renting clothing may become part of your regular routine even beyond maternity. You can also host clothing swaps with friends, use a buy/sell service like Swap or ThredUP or consider selling on websites like eBay, Poshmark or Vinted.
By doubling the life of clothing from one to two years, we can help reduce emissions from clothing production and disposal by as much as 24%.
DISPOSE OF CLOTHES RESPONSIBLY
When it comes time to part with our gently worn maternity clothing, do so wisely. National charities, like Goodwill and the Salvation Army, get more donations than they can handle, so much of it is packed up and re-sold overseas or sent to landfills. Sadly, only 10-15% of donated clothing actually ends up in the secondhand market. California Goodwill alone spends $7 million a year on dumping costs.
Consider donating to local charities, churches, or thrift shops, which are more likely to make sure it goes directly to people in need.
Dispose of unwearable items (nursing bras, nursing pads, stained shirts that have been spit up on too much, holey socks) to textile recycling facilities, where they’ll be downcycled into things like rags, cushion filling, and insulation. I have a pair of back joggers I have worn so much they are literally falling apart. They are only good for use as cleaning rags but will have another life once I donate to my local disposal company who does have a special program for textile disposal. You can also visit Earth 911 to find options for textile downcycling near you. Nothing available locally? A great national organization to look into for this purpose is ReTold.
SUPPORT BRANDS WITH A SUSTAINABLE MISSIONDo your research before you go shopping and choose designers who care about their impact on the environment. I realize Simple Wishes does not do a good job of advertising what we do in these areas. Four tangible examples are:
We are on a mission to remove all single-use plastics from our factory to consumer supply chain. All of our packaging is now made from cardboard or compostable bags. We’ve even considered how we fix the hang tags to your clothing. We use string rather than a plastic swift tag. Now, remember, downcycle that string. It is a textile after all.
Our best-selling SuperMom Bralette and T-Shirt Bras are made of modal which is a more sustainable fabric than other synthetic fabrics. Most of our Sling T-Shirt Bras are made of fabrics that were recycled from other high volume brands production lines. These fabric were excess waste that would have been destined for the incinerator or landfill. Additionally, the Sling design is intended for use beyond breastfeeding with the Undercover Bra Straps. Switch out the bra straps that have the visible nursing clasp for the Undercover Bra Straps and continue wearing as a comfy wire free lounge bra. Check out the 2 minute video, How to Hide Your Nursing Clasp, for the Sling Bra on our bra tutorial page.
As our apparel collection grows, we are exploring exciting fabrics made from recycled nylon and polyester. We want to turn your plastic waste into super comfy items of clothing you can feel good wearing and proud of your reduced impact on the environment.
We offer all our bra accessories for free upon request, rather than sending them automatically with each bra. Our data shows that only 11% of women need a Band Extender for our all day wear bras, 8% use a Center Panel on our adjustable pumping band and 35% use the Comfort Sling that is compatible with our SuperMom & Sling bra styles for supplementary pump support. To a single customer, these items are tiny textile elements but in the aggregate, they add up to a lot of waste that is probably getting thrown right into landfill.
Each of us can take small steps each day to pave the path towards a more sustainable fashion future. Maybe your effort today is realizing you need a band extender on the bra you ordered. Rather than getting upset, it wasn’t included, appreciate the fact that you get it for free from a brand that cares about textile waste. Clothing landfill waste certainly isn’t a problem we’re going to solve overnight, but little by little we can address the part of the problem we can control, which is our consumption and our disposal methods.