By CLUE, August 2013
Look in your closet, and what do you see? If you are like the average post-recession American, you own 88 items of clothing (not counting undergarments) and upwards of 9 pairs of shoes. Factor in changing fashions and worn-out clothing, and you may cycle through many items of clothing in one year. Indeed, the majority of textile waste comes from households. The average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing, linens, and other textiles each year. Yet nearly 100% of household textiles can be reused or recycled. As with other resources, we need to think in terms of reduce, reuse, and recycle when it comes to clothing.
To reduce waste, assess how many items of clothing you need and only purchase as much as necessary. Consider changing your habits by going for a period of time without buying any new clothes, and challenge your friends to do the same. Buy higher quality clothing when possible, and learn to mend small tears or patch your clothing in attractive ways to make them last.
Next, get rid of clothing that you do not need. Have a neighborhood rummage sale, a swap with friends, or a clothing drive for a local nonprofit such as Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul, or the Family Crisis Center. Organize a clothing drive at your university, organization, or apartment building. If a nonprofit donation center isn’t located in your community, consider using the new for-profit clothing donation boxes popping up around town.
When all else fails, recycle torn or soiled clothing. Only about 15% of textiles are recycled, compared with 72% of newspapers and 50% of soda cans, according to the EPA. If your city or county has a recycling program, check to see whether they accept textiles such as clothing, or are thinking of doing so in the future. Local governments around the country are adding textiles to their curbside recycling programs in response to consumer demand. In addition, your local Goodwill accepts all clothing donations (“Goodwill, not the landfill”), whether for sale or recycling. Goodwill North Central Wisconsin vice president Karen Laws explains, “The nicer things we sell in our retail stores but some articles are torn and/or soiled. These articles are recycled as wiping cloths that a variety of industrial companies use in their businesses.” Your local Goodwill store separates these items on site and uses the profits to support local job training and education programs.
We can all do our part to reduce clothing and textile waste. Recycling clothing not only has environmental benefits, it also has economic benefits. Approximately 500 textile recycling companies employ 17,000 workers in the United States to recycle and repurpose used textiles. The Council for Textile Recycling reports that currently 45% of recycled textiles are repurposed and exported as secondhand clothing, 30% are converted into wiping rags for industrial and residential use, and 20% are recycled into fiber for home insulation, carpet padding, and raw materials for the auto industry.