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Cash-in Your Closet Featured on Feb 20, 2009
Give a decent item of clothing a new life. Find something you rarely wear, and sell or donate it. We'll show you how.
Selling or donating one item of clothing you don't need can reduce CO2 emissions by 27.1 lbs.
7871 people have reduced CO2 emissions by 104.04 tons by completing this challenge so far. That's equal to turning off the electricity of 136 homes for about 1 month!
IN COLLABORATION WITH
“There’s gold in them thar hills!” Er, closets. And drawers, boxes, garment bags under the guest room bed… anywhere you might have unused clothes that still have life in them. If you have clothes in good condition that you aren’t ever going to wear again, it’s time to get them out of the house. You could always donate them to charity. Or you could go for the gold and try selling the better clothes. One man’s “dogs playing poker” necktie is another man’s treasure. Sell it!
The Carbon Connection
You’ve read the labels on your clothing closely enough to know that it seems almost everything you wear today has been made overseas. So, you’re already aware that a pair of jeans, for example, has traveled a long way to get from a manufacturing plant in Asia to the store where you bought them and finally home to your closet. Before they traveled from the factory to you, the jeans needed to be created in the factory; cloth was cut and sewn, a zipper added, etc. All of that transportation and manufacturing add up to a lot of energy costs and consequent CO2 emissions.
The cloth that goes into a pair of jeans has its own, separate carbon story. The denim probably got made somewhere else, likely in another country altogether. So the cloth has its own energy costs and associated carbon dioxide, plus the energy needed to transport that cloth from the mill to the plants that need the cloth to make clothing. Before there’s cloth, there’s raw material. For cotton denim, cotton plants were grown on farms, perhaps in yet another country. And there are energy costs associated with raising that cotton, harvesting it, and shipping it off to the mill where it gets made into cloth.
We reduce CO2 emissions when we prolong the useful life of a piece of clothing. Let’s say that you decide to sell a pair of jeans that are still in decent condition. The CO2 involved in the early parts of the clothing’s life cycle is already in the air. By passing those jeans on to somebody else who can use them, you can eliminate the need for a new, similar pair of jeans to be manufactured. Yes, there is some energy required to deliver used clothing from one person to another, but it’s far less than what is needed to create an entirely new item. The net result is a reduction in energy use and CO2 emissions.
Getting It Done
It’s time to get realistic about what’s in your closet. If you didn’t wear that jacket this year, chances are you won’t wear it next year. Pass it on. That tweed overcoat from your grandfather that’s just a little too plaid for you to wear? Vintage! Pass it on. And really, you may even be doing your relationships a favor. According to a survey performed by the online classified site Kijiji.com, 81% of couples see unused clothing taking up space in the closet as a source of tension in their relationships. And you don’t want that.
Here are a few suggestions to help you with this Challenge:
- You have a few different options available to you when you choose to sell clothing from your closet. For instance, you can list and sell the item on eBay. Or, if you’re in a large enough city, you probably have a local Craigslist, Kijiji, or other online or offline community bulletin board where you can place a classified ad. eBay has an entire Help area devoted to making it easier for you to get started selling items on eBay. Be sure to check out the How to Sell tour and the Getting Ready to Sell tutorial. See the Learn More section below for other ideas on how to manage your online listings and sales.
- If neither of these online options appeals to you, ask around to see if there are any local consignment shops that would be willing to sell some of your clothes. Consignment shops will display and sell your old clothes. They keep a percent of the selling price. Some shops only accept certain types of clothes; most shops are only looking to sell clothes that are currently pre-season or in-season.
- Be a smart seller when it comes to shipping. It’s up to you to convince your buyers that “ground is green!” Ground shipping may take a little longer, but it is cheaper than overnight air and at least five times more energy efficient. And when you package up your item for shipping, try to reuse boxes, envelopes, etc., that you already have on hand.
- Cheaper isn’t always better. Sometimes cheaper is just cheaper. Within reason, consider buying clothes that are well put together and that can hold up to long-term wear. Whether it means you wear a jacket longer or that the same jacket can still be worn by one or two people after you pass it on, the longer it gets worn the more carbon savings are realized. A well-made, $30 hoodie sweatshirt with one set of life cycle costs is a better option than two sweatshirts that fall apart and that have two separate sets of life cycle costs.
Whatever you do, don’t throw away old clothing. According to the EPA, landfills in the United States receive about 20 billion pounds of old clothing each year, nearly all of which should be reused or recycled instead. If you don’t want to sell your unused and unwanted clothing, consider passing it along to family and friends. Donate it to a local charity thrift store. Large charities like Goodwill decide whether to sell the clothes locally, ship them overseas, or send them for recycling.
Have you sold any of your own excess clothing on Craigslist or eBay? What are your experiences with resale or consignment shops? What tips can you share with your fellow Rallyers? Please share your thoughts, stories, and suggestions in the forum section below.
Rules of the Challenge
This Challenge asks you to look in your closet and sell or donate one item of clothing that is still in decent condition. Items with good resale value include jackets, coats, sport coats or blazers, sweaters, or jeans that are still in good condition. Please use ground shipping (and reused shipping materials, if possible) if you need to ship your item. By selling this one item of clothing, you’ll be preventing the creation and release of an estimated 27.1 lbs of CO2. This Challenge is repeatable, and can be accepted once every 7 days. Remember, please don’t accept this Challenge for clothing items you have already sold. Carbonrally is all about taking new actions to reduce energy consumption and CO2. If this Challenge causes you to sell or donate an item of clothing, please accept it!
Also, if you have larger quantities of really worn-out clothing, please stay tuned. We will be posting a separate Challenge soon that provides more information about how to recycle the fiber of old clothes that aren’t fit for re-use.
See the Math
Let’s start with the known or estimated numbers:
- Let’s start with a study from Cambridge University that found the energy needed to produce an average 100% cotton t-shirt is 47 megajoules. This number includes energy associated with growing and producing the cotton, the creation of the cloth at a mill, the manufacture of the cloth into the shirt, and many various transportation stages along the way. source
- A megajoule is equal to one million joules, which is equal to 0.3 kilowatt hours (kWh). So that means it takes the equivalent of 14.1 kWh (47 times 0.3 kWh) to get a t-shirt to market.
- We can then find pounds of carbon dioxide using a known conversion factor of 1.55 lbs CO2 per 1 kWh. This conversion factor accounts for a mixed use of various fossil fuels. This gives us 21.9 lbs CO2 per t-shirt (14.1 kWh times 1.55 lbs CO2 per kWh). source
- Ah, but we aren’t asking you to sell a t-shirt. Unless the t-shirt happened to be from a particularly good concert tour, we assume it doesn’t have the resale (or carbon) value we’re after. So we’re going to increase the CO2 numbers based on the mass of the clothing item. The idea is that the more material that goes into the piece of clothing, the more energy was required to bring it to market and therefore more carbon dioxide was formed in the process. The t-shirt in the study had a mass of 200 grams (about 7 ounces). A blouse in the same study was 250 grams (almost 9 ounces), which is just over half a pound. A pair of jeans or a sweater are each close to 1 pound each. So we are going to double our CO2 numbers from the t-shirt to approximate the CO2 from the more massive clothing items we are challenging you to sell. That gives us 43.8 lbs of CO2 (21.9 lbs CO2 times 2).
- Now it’s time for a little life cycle adjustment. Think about where the carbon savings come from when you sell an item of clothing from your closet. If buying your item of clothing means someone no longer needs to buy a new item of clothing, then you are preventing the release of what we estimate to be 43.8 lbs of CO2. However, it probably is not going to be a 100% replacement. If it’s used clothing, perhaps the buyer won’t be able to wear it as long and will need to buy another used item or a new item to replace it. We are therefore going to reduce our estimate by one-third and call it 29.2 lbs of CO2.
- Assuming that you sell your item of clothing to someone online, we then also have to calculate the additional CO2 associated with packing the item for shipping. When you ship the clothing item out to the buyer, you might package it in a corrugated cardboard box or perhaps just a padded envelope. For this estimate, we are saying that you are using a shipping box equal to 0.25 pounds of cardboard, which has an associated charge of 0.2 pounds of CO2.
- The sweater you’re selling is all boxed up. But now, what are the carbon costs of having that sweater delivered to the buyer? UPS estimates that they use a total of 0.1 gallons of fuel to deliver each package in their system. That is equal to 1.9 pounds of CO2. source
- So the total CO2 packaging and delivering the clothing item you sell online is 2.1 lbs (1.9 lbs from the trucks plus 0.2 lbs for the shipping box).
- Therefore, the carbon savings from selling an item of clothing from your closet is 27.1 lbs of CO2 (29.2 lbs CO2 minus 2.1 lbs CO2).
And remember, doing the right environmental thing can also put some money in your pocket. Go online or visit a consignment shop. See what people are willing to buy and how much they are willing to pay for used clothes. You may find that you can finally recoup some of what you spent on those platform shoes and Lycra dress.
Rallyers, go tell your closet it’s payback time.
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