The volume of clothing Americans throw away each year has DOUBLED in the last 20 years. Although textile waste only represents 5.8% of MSW waste generated each year, many would be surprised to find that 85% of textile waste ends up in landfills or incinerators. Textiles can also take up to 200+ years to decompose in landfills making this a huge environmental issue.
Despite almost every kind of fabric being recyclable, the textile recycling rate is also currently one of the lowest compared to other materials. Although a good portion of these numbers comes from pre-consumer waste, meaning the wasted scraps and fabrics on the production side, there are still many steps we as consumers can take to reduce these numbers.
Post-consumer waste is generated by articles such as used clothing, towels, bedsheets, carpets, rugs, upholstery, and other textile items.
How do we as consumers reduce textile waste?
It all comes back to the 3 R’s : Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
First off – Do NOT throw away your used clothing or textiles!
There are many ways your used textiles can be given a second life such as being repurposed into new clothing, housing insulation, rags, or even stuffed animals. Even your gross old underwear as well as tattered clothes and fabric scraps can be recycled and given a second life as long as it has been cleaned and dried.
Here are some great textile recycling programs:
- Council for Textile Recycling: Find clothing donation drop-offs and textile recycling resources all across the US. Keep in mind the donation suggestions might not recycle “unwearable” textiles. It’s best to call the individual recommended locations before making a drop-off.
- The Bra Recyclers: An organization that will find a way to recycle, reuse or repurpose bras. You can find a drop-off station or mail old bras directly to them.
- Donation Town: A site that helps you find a local clothing donation pick-up service in your area.
- Nike, Reuse-A-Shoe: Nike collects old athletic shoes from any brand that they grind up and use to create courts, fields, tracks and playgrounds.
- Patagonia, Common Threads – Bring back your unwanted Patagonia clothing and accessories to any Patagonia store and they’ll recycle it and give you store credit!
- The North Face, Clothes the Loop – Recycling clothing and shoes from any brand at North Face stores.
- GemText: Free textile recycling based in the Pacific Northwest.
- Soles 4 Souls: A national shoe recycling program.
- Green Tree: Free textile recycling drop-offs located at specific NYC farmers’ markets.
- Wearable Collections: NYC-based clothing recycling pick-up service.
- Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles: An online platform that will help you find the nearest textile recycling outlets near you.
- H&M, Don’t Let Fashion Go To Waste – You can drop off your textiles from any brand, in any condition, at any H&M store globally and they’ll recycle it for you. I recommend calling ahead though to your local H&M before to double check and make sure store employees know you’re coming by.
There are most likely hundreds more I haven’t mentioned, but check through these resources and see if they are right for you to start recycling your textiles today.
Some other ways to recycle your old clothing that’s in wearable condition would be selling your clothing to your local thrift shop or on Poshmark as well as donating your clothing in donation bins or clothing drives.
Another way to help lower your environmental footprint would be shopping secondhand or only shopping from brands that do not contribute to fast fashion.
Follow these tips to lower your environmental footprint and to help make America green again!