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What You Didn’t Know About Textile Recycling

POSTED UNDER Recycling & Waste Reduction

Most of us are well-intentioned environmental stewards. It doesn’t take too much effort to recycle standard items, such as glass, paper and plastic. And we donate used clothing to charities, such as Goodwill and The Salvation Army, when we can. But what about destroyed textiles? While we might think it’s fine to throw away fabric that can no longer be used in its current form, these textiles are adding up in landfills.

The U.S. EPA estimates:

  • Textile waste occupies more than five percent of all landfill space – about 21 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste.
  • Recycling textiles only accounts for 15 percent of post-consumer textile waste, meaning 85 percent is sent to the landfills.

This waste problem is due in large part to ignorance. While textile donating has been around for a long time, nonprofits don’t always have the resources to take in items they can’t immediately sell or donate themselves.

On top of this, the amount of textiles Americans generate every year is massive – and growing. (To be clear, textiles include clothing, footwear, accessories, towels, bedding, drapery, etc.)

  • Americans generate an average of 25 billion pounds of textiles per year
  • This equates to 82 pounds per U.S. resident

One solution to this waste problem is simply being a smarter consumer. When is the last time you donated clothing with the tags still on? Buy what you need, buy what you want and buy textiles that serve a purpose. The first step to cutting waste starts with using less.

The next step is donating to places where textiles that aren’t able to be sold in their current state are recycled or repurposed.

Based on their current state, these items can be:

  • Reused as second-hand clothing
  • Repurposed as raw materials to make new items
  • Converted into industrial and residential absorbents
  • Recycled into fiber for home insulation, carpet padding, etc.

As nonprofits can’t always accommodate this, a for-profit textile recycling industry has emerged, providing donation bins to recycle and re-sell disposed textiles. There’s speculation to the validity of for-profit recycling, making it crucial for these businesses to promote transparent and ethical practices. Some businesses go so far as to allow customers to track where their items end up, as well as gain profit from the donations themselves.

We know textiles are a major industry, but we also know that clothes have a shelf life. Make sure your textiles find new life after your time with them is through.

Find out where you can donate your textiles through the Council for Textile Recycling.


You also might like:

Sustainable Apparel 101 and Looking Beyond the Label
Exploring Recycling in Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s Stores
A Vision for Sustainability – Real World Results
Earth Week 2017 Recap

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