Textile recycling is the process by which old clothing and other textiles are recovered for reuse or material recovery. It is the basis for the textile recycling industry. The necessary steps in the textile recycling process involve the donation, collection, sorting and processing of textiles, and then subsequent transportation to end users of used garments, rags or other recovered materials.
The basis for the growing textile recycling industry is, of course, the textile industry itself. The textile industry has evolved into a $1 trillion industry globally, comprising clothing, as well as furniture and mattress material, linens, draperies, cleaning materials, leisure equipment and many other items. Unlike mature industries such as metal recycling that have a long history, the growth of textile recycling is much more recent. It is worth noting, however, that a degree of textile recycling was practiced some 200 years ago in England by “rag and bone men” who collected old clothing
Okay so today is the day where I talk about scraps. What on earth do you guys do with them? I am going out of my mind with fabric scraps. I’m pretty good at fabric yield (I get a lot of practice at work) so most often my scraps aren’t big enough to make anything out of, and if they are I keep them with any leftover yardage. As for all the sewn garment muslins, if they are made out of pieces large enough to recut into another piece I will do that, but mostly they aren’t. Unfortunately between muslins and garments for hound, garments for myself and muslins from pattern testing I have a lot of fabric garbage. I’ve tried googling ‘fabric recycling’ and variations on that and basically everything I’ve come up with (repurposing scraps, donating old clothes to goodwill etc.) don’t really apply. I found one place called Chicago Textile Recycling and sent them an email but from their site it looks like they also only take full garments. This is where I start asking around, what do you do with your scraps?! In my head there is a place that will recycle them and turn them into some sort of super fabric, but apparently not? Help! I can’t keep throwing out this much fabric and I can’t keep hoarding small scraps in my apartment, it feels horrible to do both!
Wardrobe makeovers, size fluctuation, shopping sprees—whatever the reason, many of us have too many clothes on our hands (cue the old “and yet still nothing to wear!” line). If you’re tempted to toss pieces that are too worn to consign, donate to Goodwill, or hawk on eBay…NO! STOP! DON’T! According to a new report from the Council for Textile Recycling Control, the average American throws away 70 pounds. of clothing every year, which equals roughly 191 T-shirts…per person. Collectively, that’s approximately 3.8 billion pounds of waste. Whoops.
In addition to the shame-attack you’re likely experiencing at this moment, the economic repercussions of this massive trashing are serious. Research from the Environmental Protection Agency indicates that the average charge for landfill dumping is $100 per ton, meaning that taxpayers could potentially save more than $1.1 billion every year by keeping textile waste out of landfills. And the environmental impact? It’s equally dismal: When old clothes are buried in a landfill, they not only take up space but also can also contaminate soil and groundwater and emit horrifying odors. If they’re not buried, it’s off to the landfill’s giant incinerator, which releases tons of greenhouse gases, contributing to global warming and climate change. What we’re trying to say here, people, is that throwing away clothes is lose-lose.
The good news, as the CTR points out, is that over 90 percent of these discarded clothes and textiles are actually recyclable. “Many people may think that if they don’t want something—particularly if it’s damaged—that it’s not usable, but that’s not the case,” says John Nagiecki, the spokesperson for textile recycling non-profit Planet Aid. “All of the clothing and textiles [we sell] end up getting used 100 percent.”
Here, a rundown of the best and brightest resources that make clothing-recycling more convenient than ever:
1. H&M has a new policy allowing shoppers to donate bags of clothing (which don’t have to be in good condition or carry an H&M label) in exchange for a 15 percent discount on an item of their choice. Puma and The North Face stores also accept worn clothing, and other retailers such as Levi’s, Gap, and Patagonia offer recycling sale events—inquire at local locations to see what’s planned.
2. Planet Aid‘s yellow collection bins (popping up soon on a street corner near you) offer peace of mind with a convenience factor. The nonprofit sells collected textiles to vendors in developing countries and uses the profits to support sustainable agriculture programs in sub-Saharan Africa.
3. Earth911.com is a one-stop-shop for recycling resources. Save time with their search engine that lists recycling centers by item type and zip code.
4. Don’t want to get off the couch? You’re lazy. You’re also in luck: More than a dozen local governments in states including Arizona, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, have implemented curbside textile pickup over the past nine months. New York City, for its part, has put clothing collection bins in nearly 250 apartment buildings since 2011, and initiatives such as GrowNYC, a nonprofit with various environmental programs, also offer weekly textile drop-offs at over 26 convenient locations across the city.