The climate and your clothes: How to be more sustainable

Sweden is one of the most sustainable countries in the world - and yet Swedes throw away more than 5 items of clothing every second. As world leaders gather at the climate conference in Paris, a Swedish second-hand store is calling attention to the problem at home.

The climate and your clothes: How to be more sustainable

Myrorna is a chain of second-hand stores in Sweden, where people can donate their old items, including clothing, as well as shop for used items.

Now the company is also taking an active stance in the climate change discourse.

“Seven of 10 Swedes only use half of the clothes in their wardrobes,” says Emma Enebog, sustainability manager at Myrorna. “At Myrorna we know that we can do better, and we want to find a solution for more sustainable everyday living.”

Read more about sustainability initiatives in Sweden

Each Swede tosses an average of 8 kilogrammes of textiles and clothing per year – a move which is neither economically smart nor good for the environment. Myrorna is calling attention to the problem with the new initiative “Activate your wardrobe”.

Users can take a test online to find out which “Wardrobe Monster” they are and how they can make their clothing habits more sustainable.

“By recyling we can extend the lifecycle of clothing and relieve the burden on the environment,” she says.

According to Myrorna's surveys, 25 percent of Swedes feel frustrated when they open their wardrobe, 20 percent feel confused, and 3 percent feel guilty. Only a quarter of Swedes are happy when they take a peek at their clothing collection.

Read also: Sweden pledges more to fight climate change

“Our wardrobes are filled with locked-in resources, and it's time we activate them,” Emme Enebog says. “It's good for us as consumers and it's good for the environment.”

Photo: Tuukka Ervasti/

How to activate your wardrobe:

1. Take inventory: Look through all of the clothing you have and determine what you use and what you don't, and if you have unnecessary items or duplicates.

2. Sort: Sort your clothing into “save” and “don't save” piles, and write a list of what you actually need to add to your wardrobe, if anything. Remember that your wardrobe is not a place for long-term storage. If you haven't used an item in a long time, give it away. If it's too warn out to use, don't throw it away – take it to a textile recycling centre!

3. Clean: Get rid of any dust and dirt in your wardrobe. Make sure to use green, sustainable cleaning products – warm water should be enough to get rid of dust.

4. Create a system: Don't just shove everything back when you're done. Figure out a system that inspires you when you open your wardrobe.

5. Keep it active: Make sure to keep doing inventory every so often, and make sure you're not throwing away clothing. Unused clothing should be recycled.

Want to find a recycling centre near you? Check out this page and click the box for ‘Återvinningscentraler’.

As a world-leader in sustainability, Sweden is playing a large role at the climate conference. For instance, Sweden's government has promised to create one of the world’s first fossil fuel-free welfare states. And, if it succeeds, there will be huge gains for public health, argue three Swedish medical and environmental experts  – read more here

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How Sweden’s Sami reindeer herders are being forced to adapt to climate change

The indigenous Sami people have herded reindeer in northern Sweden for generations, but climate change poses a new threat to their way of life and livelihood.

How Sweden's Sami reindeer herders are being forced to adapt to climate change
Reindeer pictured near the northern city of Kiruna. Photo: AP Photo/Malin Moberg

Once, the lynx, wolverines and eagles that preyed on their animals were the main concern for reindeer herders as they moved them to find food in the winter. But now Margret Fjellstrom and Daniel Viklund, a married couple from Sweden's indigenous Sami community with hundreds of tawny reindeer, worry about a new threat.

Shifting weather patterns in northern Sweden are forcing them to go further afield to find grazing for their hungry reindeer, pushing up costs and taking more time.

Dressed warmly in jackets and ski pants against the minus 17-degree-Celsius (1.4 Fahrenheit) temperatures, the couple watched on a February morning as their animals pawed through deep snow for the lichen they eat. It's their main food source in winter on the hillsides near Sweden's Baltic Sea coast.

Back when snowfall like this was a regular occurrence, Fjellstrom's herder parents would follow the same migration routes year in, year out, stopping at tried-and-tested spots for food. But that isn't the case now.

“It can rain in January, it can snow in May, there's no logic to it any more,” Fjellstrom, 39, said, sitting with Viklund by their snowmobiles.

Photo: AP Photo/Malin Moberg

Between 1991 and 2019, parts of northern and eastern Sweden saw a rise in average temperature of nearly two degrees C compared to the 1860-1900 period, Sweden's meteorological institute said in a report. For several days in early January, temperatures in the north climbed about 10C more than normal, the institute said. And on January 2nd, three weather stations in central Sweden reported their highest temperatures for the month since 1971.

Unseasonably high temperatures cause the snow to thaw and freeze again when the cold returns, building up thicker layers of ice that prevent the reindeer from digging down through the snow to the lichen.

To ensure they will find food during the migration, the couple spends two months taking turns to scout out unfamiliar areas, before setting off with the animals. Moving the reindeer from their summer pasture now often involves navigating them around motorways, windfarms or hydroelectric projects. The journey this year took nearly twice as long as it would have done in predictable weather, Fjellstrom said.

The Sami have herded reindeer across areas of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia for generations and are thought to number between 80,000 and 100,000, with many living above the Arctic Circle. In Sweden, only the Sami are allowed to herd the animals, raised for their meat, pelts and antlers.

Fjellstrom and Viklund annually move their herd from Dikanas, a village 800 kilometres (500 miles) north of Stockholm, to the plains near Ornskoldsvik. They transport them first by lorry, then release them and follow by snowmobile, tracking them using GPS collars.

Viklund watched as the reindeer disappeared into the snow-dusted forest, before launching a drone with a speaker attached into the freezing air above. It allows him to keep track of the animals when poor snowfall makes travel by snowmobile impossible. He can also herd them on with recordings of his dog barking when they head to areas with little food or hazards like roads or windfarms whose turbine noise scares the reindeer.

“We're getting more and more days that don't look like this, the snow is just a few centimetres,” he said. “It's a way to adapt.”

Reindeer herding on the Vindelälven river. Photo: Grahame Soden

Concerned that the animals get enough to eat, the couple split their herd and asked Fjellstrom's cousin to move the other half. It's an added expense for 31-year-old Neila Fjellstrom but he understands the need.

The Sami peoples and their reindeer are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, according to research. 

A “warming climate alters the vegetation conditions and threatens the reindeer's wellbeing and access to food,” Finland's University of Oulu and its Center for Environmental and Respiratory Health Research said in a study last year.

Many Sami are more worried about fluctuating temperatures now, than encroaching infrastructure, said Gunhild Rosqvist, a Stockholm University researcher into the effects of climate change in mountain and polar environments.

“I think their awareness of their vulnerability has increased a lot,” she told AFP.

At the annual Sami market in Jokkmokk above the Arctic Circle in early February, thousands of Sami mixed with tourists, just weeks before the new coronavirus forced countries around the world to introduce lockdowns. Reindeer products were proudly on display, from steaming pots of reindeer stew to soft pelts and knives with handles carved from antlers.

“Reindeer herding has been practised for many hundreds of years and it's an important part of Sami culture,” Kjell-Ake Aronsson, a researcher at the local museum, said. “Reindeer meat is an important product. A lot of people are related indirectly to reindeer herding.”

Sweden's Sami parliament estimates around 2,000 people are directly dependent on herding the country's 250,000 animals for a living. Away from the crowds, young Sami activists, in traditional outfits embroidered in blues and reds, gathered for a “climate strike” attended by Greta Thunberg.

Fjellstrom and Viklund's 17-year-old daughter Alva also spoke at the event and hopes to become a herder herself. But the increased effort needed for herding reindeer now makes Viklund worry about the future.

“I want to give my children the opportunity to do it,” he said, the sun casting long, blue shadows across the snow. “Climate change could destroy that dream.”

By Tom Little/AFP