Many clothes find their way into the trash in Germany | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 24.11.2015
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Many clothes find their way into the trash in Germany

The average German owns a lot of clothes. In fact, so many that a lot of clothing lands in trash cans. But buying cheap and fashionable apparel is very bad for the environment.

More than 5.2 billion items of clothing are stowed away in German closets, according to a new survey by environmental watchdog Greenpeace, and many are barely worn before they are thrown away.

According to "Disposable Clothing," a representative online survey of 1,100 people, over 10 percent of Germans get less than a year's wear out of their shoes and almost no one gets clothes mended by tailors.

On average, women possess 118 items of clothing each, while men own 73. About one-third of Germans, however, have more than 250 articles of clothing in their closets. Two-thirds get rid of clothes when they don't like them any more; one-third of those said they did so to create more space for new clothes. Most discarded clothing lands in trash cans or used-clothes containers.

One big reason for this is the fact that clothes are not as hardy anymore and are manufactured according to fleeting trends. "The reason for this is definitely that clothes have become much cheaper and people are buying a lot more," said Greenpeace's Kerstin Brodde, a co-author of the study.

Deutschlandlabor Folge 11 Übungsbild Container

Many clothes land in recycling containers like the one on the left

"The Greenpeace report says that our closets are completely full but that we rarely or maybe even never wear 40 percent of the things in it," she said. "In spite of that, we keep buying more new things simply because clothes are not valued anymore and are cheaply available."

A cause for concern

In its report, Greenpeace mentions apparel giants such as H&M and Zara and popular German supermarket chains like Aldi and Lidl, which introduce new collections at very low prices on what seems like a weekly basis. "T-shirts are barely used for longer than plastic bags," the authors of the study lament.

"The manufacturing of clothes goes hand in hand with the infringement of human rights and with environmental protection," Brodde said. "The production of a single pair of jeans requires 7,000 liters (1,800 gallons) of fresh water. At the same time, a huge amount of poisonous chemicals are used. The effluents then pollute lakes and rivers in the countries of production, which in turn, affect the drinking water in these areas."

According to Greenpeace, traces of toxins from factories have made their way from textile-producing countries such as India, Bangladesh and Cambodia to as far away as the coasts of South Africa. Traces of the pollutants were also found in the livers of polar bears.

Kambodscha Textilindustrie Näherin

Exploitation of labor and natural resources is common in textile manufacturing countries such as India, Bangladesh and Cambodia

"I think it makes more sense to buy a little less and then spend more on something that has been produced in an ecologically friendly and fair manner," Brodde said, "and also to make sure that one wears this item for a long time and, if the zipper goes bad or a button comes off, to repair it instead of throwing it away."

Meanwhile, donating clothes has also become an option for many Germans wanting to do their bit to help refugees. "Winter clothing is something we always need and also shoes, bed linen and men's wear," said Carina Wübbels of the Deutsche Kleiderstiftung, which works with schools and churches to collect old clothes for donation.

And for those who simply cannot cope with giving their clothes away, Greenpeace has a suggestion. "It may help to simply organize your closet, because one could find and wear old pieces of clothing that are trendy again," Kerstin Brodde says.

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