It’s no secret that environmental sustainability doesn’t happen overnight; often, attitudes need to change and awareness needs to expand in order to make an impact on the national or global level. The adoption and awareness of sustainable practices such as recycling have expanded rapidly over the past few decades, representing a significant milestone on the road to environmental sustainability in North America and beyond, but will recycling be enough?
According to Savers’ recent State of Reuse Report, which surveyed 3,000 North Americans about their sustainability behaviors and perceptions of reuse, many consumers do not understand the concept of reuse or the environmental impact it can have in the long run. Specifically, the survey revealed lingering misconceptions about the impact of reuse, especially for clothing and textiles, as well as a lack of awareness about the options available for keeping these items out of landfills. Here are a few of the survey findings:
- Almost half of North Americans believe they have
too much stuff.
- Americans vastly underestimate the amount of
used clothing and accessories they send to landfills each year: They report
throwing away 4.7 trash bags worth, while the actual amount is nearly double at
8.1 trash bags.
- 1 in 3 people don’t know that more than 90
percent of textiles can be reused or recycled.
- Of people who do not donate used goods, one in
three say it’s just more convenient to throw these items away.
- More than half of North Americans surveyed say they are more likely to reuse clothing after hearing about the significant environmental impact of textile manufacturing.
This lack of awareness of reuse (compared to the widespread understanding of recycling) is significant because reuse is often the more impactful option. Reuse reduces the need for production and additional natural resources. It is also a critical part of a “circular economy,” which, as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation notes in the report, relies on items staying “at their highest utility” and out of landfills.
Despite the alarming trend towards unawareness, the survey results also indicate positive perceptions of reuse and those who practice it overall. Likewise, it seems that after being educated on the difference between reusing and recycling and the potential impact of the former, consumers are more than willing to take that knowledge and change their habits for the better.