Why do we keep wearing our old clothes?
It’s not just because we need to feel like we’re still relevant to society.
The world’s biggest economy, China, relies on this very behaviour.
And it’s largely because it’s so easy to buy, recycle and resell old clothing and footwear.
And yet people don’t buy and sell that way anymore.
In fact, a lot of people are now opting for the cheap, mass-produced alternative of selling them online.
And it’s all thanks to a new study, published in the journal Science.
“We’re really not talking about a big global problem.
We’re talking about the global phenomenon of cheap, low-quality clothing, and it’s a global problem,” says Dr Jonathan Haines, the lead author on the study.
Dr Hainse and his team at the University of Exeter in the UK used a database of more than 5 million clothing items, including pairs of shoes, hats and shirts, to track trends in the fashion industry over the past 30 years.
The team compared the number of items that people bought, sold and recycled.
It found that people who bought their clothes in the past year were more likely to reuse them.
This is important because it means they are not only using up their inventory, but they are also wasting money.
The study showed that the recycling rate for the average American shopper was around 50% in the years 2005-2010.
But for those in China, the figure was around 90%.
“For China, that’s a lot more than the US,” Dr Hainess says.
For example, in 2009, the US had a recycling rate of 5%, whereas China had a rate of 70%.
“It’s a huge gap.
So the question becomes, why are people doing this?”
The answer, he says, is simple: there is no real incentive for consumers to reuse their old clothing.
The cost of making a new pair of shoes is typically higher than the cost of a new one.
And with recycling rates as low as they are, there is little incentive to recycle a piece of clothing that isn’t going to be used, he explains.
That’s partly because the material is more valuable than it used to be.
In a study published in 2013, Dr Hains found that when people saw the image of a cheap, generic shoe, their brains began to think about how they could make money by reselling it.
In fact, he found that a small fraction of people would even consider reselling a shoe that they thought they could sell, rather than buying it themselves.
Another reason is that it is incredibly difficult to recycle something as large as a pair of clothes.
Because of its limited lifespan, it has been made into so many different materials, the cost is prohibitively high.
“In the past, you might have had a single pair of jeans that you made into a pair, or you could make a pair and sell it, or sell it in a thrift store for a lot less than what you would buy a new garment from,” Dr. Hains explains.
“But today, we have a huge amount of disposable goods in our shopping, so it’s very difficult to find a new product that doesn’t involve a lot and costs a lot.”
Even when consumers do find a good use for the garment, it often doesn’t last long.
When Dr Hakes and his colleagues started their study, there were only a few hundred pairs of clothes in their database.
Now, they have almost 200,000 pairs, with the number rising steadily every year.
But they still have a long way to go.
One thing is clear, though.
In the long term, the amount of clothing we waste is going to increase.
Explore further: Why are some countries more wasteful than others?