Fashion Retailers, Non-Profits and NYC Government Band Together to Divert Clothing from Landfills

Reformation, ThredUp, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the New York Department of Sanitation are just a few of the parties involved.
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Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Anyone who's roamed the streets of New York City the night before garbage collection knows that New Yorkers throw out plenty of perfectly good things. And it's not just bulky items like the couch that wouldn't fit in the new apartment, either — there's also a whole lot of fashion that gets trashed.

According to the City of New York Department of Sanitation (or DSNY), New Yorkers send 200 million pounds (!) of clothing, shoes and bags to landfill each year. That volume is enough to make the waste problem a concern not just for local city officials, but for anyone who cares about fashion's impact on the environment.

That's why the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a British charity dedicated to advocating for a circular economy, decided to get involved. On Monday, the Foundation announced a new campaign called #WearNext. While it's spearheaded by the non-profit's Make Fashion Circular initiative — which is predicated on eliminating fashion waste by pushing for products that can be re-used in their entirety in some other format after their initial use ends — it's ultimately a collaborative effort between brands, city government and non-profits. 

The campaign centers on a searchable map of the city that marks more than 1,100 places where clothing can be dropped off for resale or recycling, from clothing stores to thrift shops to recycling centers. Although it might seem simple, it's the first comprehensive map of its kind. Ads raising awareness about this resource for finding the nearest drop-off will be placed on bus stops and on LinkNYC boards across the city.

An advertisement raising awareness for the #WearNext campaign. Photo: Courtesy of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

An advertisement raising awareness for the #WearNext campaign. Photo: Courtesy of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

So far, retailers like Reformation, Athleta and H&M, secondhand sellers like ThredUp, textile experts like I:CO and Lenzing and city government organizations like DSNY and the Department of Sanitation have all signed on to support the initiative. 

"By bringing together these brands, along with the City of New York and recyclers, we have an opportunity to ensure New Yorkers can find a new life for their clothing," Make Fashion Circular lead Francois Souchet said in a release. "We believe clothes should never be trash."

A representative for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation noted that the campaign intends to use social media and possibly local events to encourage New Yorkers to repair, resell or swap their old clothes, too, rather than jumping immediately to the idea of donating pieces they no longer wear — an important part of keeping clothing circulating as long as possible before it's repurposed for another use. 

Beyond that, Souchet went on to say that "customers alone cannot fix the fashion industry’s waste and pollution problems," a reminder that industry-wide collaboration is as necessary (if not more so) than consumer action.

In short, this campaign won't likely fix New York's fashion waste problem single-handedly. But as far as educating the average citizen about how to do better than simply throwing their unwanted apparel in the trash, it's an important step in the right direction.

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