Gathering Mountain Miles
You can buy packs recycled from discarded nylon fishing nets, plastic telemark ski boots crafted from the oil of castor plants, no-stink bodywear knitted with yak wool, and surfboards laid up with hemp instead of fibreglass. You can get bamboo framed sunglasses, rain shells laminated with recycled polyester drink bottles, carbon-neutral sleeping pads, and skis made with 100 percent renewable energy. All of which is wonderful, because it telegraphs the message that we can find innovative solutions to the environmental crises that confront us.
Sometimes, however, the answer to vexing questions already lies right under our noses. And doesn’t require the intervention of complex technological fixes. Oft overlooked remedies to our ills can be both simple and age-old. In this instance it is: Reuse.
If reuse is the solution, what’s the problem? Simply put: Getting young people outdoors.
Although Sport England report an increase in British adolescents taking up sport, UK Youth cite a BBC study that found 16 percent of British adolescents, between 12 and 15, are considered overweight or obese. This is not only potentially debilitating for those youngsters affected, it also impacts on national wellbeing. Physical inactivity is said to cost English National Health Service providers over £900 million, in a single year.
In making the case for the inclusion of physical activity in young people’s lives, the British Heart Foundation points out that physical activity participation by children and adolescents can significantly enhance their self-esteem and self-concept, while being effective at reducing depression, anxiety, psychological distress and emotional disturbance.
Sport England tracks 100 sports, and reports that of April 2013 engagement in the outdoor sports categories of Cycling, Canoeing, Mountaineering [includes hillwalking and climbing], Sailing and Snowsports has either remained static, or decreased, compared the same survey five years ago.
The Children’s Society have noted that “it has been established that outdoor play provides on of the best forms of exercise for children of all ages.” In their 2012 Good Childhood Report they identified six things that kids need for their wellbeing. One of those was: Opportunity to take part in positive activities to thrive. They then cited three ways youth could get this opportunity, two of which were: affordable activities in their local area, and access to outdoor spaces for play.
Which brings us back to reuse.
Our young people need to get outdoors for their physical, emotional and intellectual health. We need to help them by making access to the outdoors affordable. The sun doesn’t always shine. The outdoors can be cold, wet and windy. Quality clothing and equipment enhances our enjoyment of the outdoor experience. The majesty of nature is downright difficult to appreciate when it seems as if the wind is slicing you like a knife. And feeling like a sodden dishrag is unlikely to inspire a novice hillwalker or kayaker to repeat the exercise.
In our collective attics, garages, lock-ups and the like, we have one of the keys to getting youth outdoors.
Preloved, but currently unused, waterproofs, fleeces, thermal underwear, boots, packs, etc are gathering dust. When they should be gathering mountain miles. They were born to be worn, not stitched to be ditched. The wilds are where they belong, not cooped up in some dark wardrobe or dusty cardboard box.
Gift Your Gear gratefully accepts your waterproof jackets and overtrousers, fleece, insulated jackets, trousers, gloves, hats, boots, not forgetting children’s outdoor clothing and then forwards it on to underfunded organisations, who are passionate about putting the wind in the hair and the sparkle in the eye of British youth.
Earlier this year Gift Your Gear partnered with Rohan, the outdoor and travel clothing retailer for a month long event. The outdoor gear donated to Gift Your Gear in Rohan Shops was sent to community organisations, youth groups and charities who put the donations into their outdoor equipment gear pool so the maximum number of people would benefit from the benevolence of its original owners.
Sarah Howcroft, founder of Gift Your Gear, thinks that is a brilliant result. But she feels it just scratches the surface. Her aspiration now is to see Gift Your Gear donate one million items of used outdoor gear.
That might sound like a bridge too far. But Sarah Howcroft is not one easily dissuaded. As co-founder of Rohan 40 years ago, she is very familiar with overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. For example, when UK retailers wouldn’t embrace their pioneering softshell and lightweight travel clothing, Sarah and her late husband, Paul, opened their own chain of stores to get their gear into the hands of mountaineers and walkers. Now she is determined to get reused, yet quality kit, onto youth, and get them outdoors.
Her new vision make not be so far fetched, After all Sport England figure that over 2 million Britons take part in the five core outdoor sports categories. The UK Association of National Park Authorities reckon their national parks receive over 71 million annual visitors. The British Mountaineering Council have over 75,000 members on their books, as of their 2012 annual report. Ramblers lay claim to over 110,000 members and the Long Distance Walking Association more than 7,000. Out of such a pool of participants there is bound to be one million non-active jackets, beanies, overtrousrs and the like.
And there is no better way for a piece of kit to leave its former owner’s hands. The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs led Sustainable Clothing Roadmap industry initiative found that the best end of life options for clothing was reuse. It performed best in energy and waste /resource terms compared to other options.
That’s because every tonne of discarded textiles reused saves 20 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. More reused clothing means less new clothing required, hence a reduction in virgin materials extraction, for example, in Uzbekistan, 85 percent of the Aral Sea has disappeared as a result of drainage for cotton production.
The United Kingdom spends over £20 billion on clothes every year. Yet around one million tonnes of clothing waste is discarded every year in the UK. Only 16 percent of UK textile waste is currently reused or recycled, with 63 percent ending up in landfill. It has been estimated that Brits wear an item of clothing on average for less than a third of its useful lifespan.
Gift Your Gear is a true win-win. Youth are properly and economically provided with quality clothing to better enjoy their outdoor experience (and research show that the earlier someone forms a positive connection with the natural world the more likely they are to care for it in later life. Being second hand this gear is an environmentally benign as it can be. Your home is decluttered, and your heart warmed by the good deed done. Go on: make your kit count!
Warren McLaren curates a web museum of vintage outdoor gear. He previously designed the relaunch of Berghaus’s Extrem mountaineering apparel, and co-managed a community re-use centre. He currently manages program design for an outdoor education organisation. He has recorded his own memories of early Rohan on Rohantime – G’day – Warrens post