If you follow me personally on Facebook, you may have seen that I recently pulled a jacket out of a dumpster.
Let’s start at the beginning. We don’t have curbside pickup in my town. So I have to bring my trash and recycling to the local dump.
SIDENOTE: I know we create less trash in our family than most midwesterners, but it’s still much more than I’d prefer: about 1 small trash can full every 2 weeks, plus larger drop offs a couple of times per year when we clean the garage and barn. If you’re interested in created less trash, you can find lots of zero waste inspiration on Instagram by following the hashtag #zerowaste. I’m extremely not there yet, but we definitely have reduced our waste considerably over the last 3 years. (Easter is a real kick in the shin because everyone keeps giving my kids individually wrapped candies.)
Ok. Back to the trash jacket.
I was at the dump throwing my little bag of trash in as a local farmer is tossing heaps of garbage from his pickup into the giant dumpster. This is super common. Most people come with pickup beds and SUVs full of garbage. I don’t know how often they come to drop it off. But it’s certainly hard to watch.
As he was throwing piles in. I found a jacket that looked almost brand new. Being me, I pulled it out of the dumpster to see why it was thrown out. When I lamented a nice new jacket being in the dumpster, the guy next to me said “It happens.” And showed me how his new coat had a rip and he would probably have to get a new one again.
I sat there wondering if my social anxiety or my moral compass would win. And that day, the moral compass won. I announced to the stranger that clothes can be fixed and that I would fix whatever was wrong with the jacket. I told him to find me if he needed his jacket fixed too. Then I hustled away with my dumpster coat.
SIDENOTE: Part of the real lesson here is that aside from the convenience of the disposable lifestyle, there is also the self-inflicted notion that re-use and extra efforts towards sustainability can be embarrassing. If you’re lucky enough to be in an eco-echo chamber with lots of supportive friends, that’s awesome. But many of us have grown up as outliers: being considered weird for caring about the environment and even occasionally bullied for it. So, next time you want to do some good, just remember that it takes a bit of bravery for many people. So applaud the people already doing it. And be brave yourself.
Ok. Back to the story: When I got home I took a closer look, I found out the coat was a men’s XXL SwissTech. Which sounds awfully fancy. (I thought of Swiss banks, Swiss watches, and Swiss Army Knives so it must be expensive!) When I looked it up, it was $55 at Walmart and about the same price at Kohls.
It’s called a three-in-one because it has a lighter coat that zips into the larger coat so you can have a spring jacket, a fall coat, or a winter coat when combining the two. The “fabric” is extremely plastic-y, almost like wearing a rubby-plastic bag. I’m sure that helps it stay water-proof.
So why was the coat in the dumpster? Well it didn’t have a bad smell. In fact, it still smelled terribly strongly of the owner’s laundry detergent. There were rips or any other damage except that the zipper pull was missing! I quickly replaced the zipper pull with a pull from a kit I had bought for my own zipper replacement project a while ago. That solved the problem except that when I did get it zipped up, 2 of the tiny teeth of the zipper were missing, so the coat would only zip 3/4 of the way.
To me, this is acceptable, but I figured I had already done this much work, so I decided to rip out the enitre zipper and replace it with a new one. I just happened to have a zipper precisely the right length in my sewing room. I had originally bought it for $6 for a pair of chaps, but it ended up being too long.
SIDENOTE: If you want to learn more about how to quickly replace a zipper, you can read about my repair for my mom’s coat here.
After I replaced the zipper and checked that it worked. I asked around if anyone in my family wanted a new coat. There was some mild interest, but I knew it would be best to find it’s original owner. So I made it a sign to hang with the coat and brought it back to the dumpster.
I explained the situation to Donny, the adorably gruff guy who monitors the dump the one day it’s open every week, and hung the coat up on the side railing with it’s sign. It’s hard to tell if Donny thinks I’m a crazy person, he just nodded at me as I explained that I fixed the coat and would leave it there for the week. I told him if no one picked it up that day I’d be back the next week to bring it to Goodwill. I also posted my sign on Facebook, because—well it’s a small town—so I figured I might even know the original owner.
BUT I’m happy to report, when I went back the following week, the coat was gone!!!! I’m choosing to believe it found an owner who needed it. :-)
I really hope that this inspired other folks in the area to get their clothes fixed instead of just throwing them away. As you know if you follow my blog, I despise clothing waste, and there is so much satisfaction to be gained from mending clothes and giving them more of a story.
ALSO this was a $55 coat and I saved it from the trash with a $6 zipper! Even if I had charged for my time, it would have only cost about $20 to fix!
I’d love to sit and wax poetic about thriftiness, the value of a dollar, and sustainability. But mostly I have to get my three-year-old tucked into the bed she keeps sneaking out of and get some sleep myself.
If you want to know more about clothing waste, here’s a great article on how much clothing trash we create and what happens to clothes that get donated to Goodwill.