When it comes to old clothes, what do you do with them? Whether or not you wear your clothes until they’re practically shredded or toss them because this season’s version looked better, the reality is that a lot of textiles don’t get taken to a place where they can get reused or even recycled. They simply get thrown away.
The average American throws away about 65 pounds of clothing per year, and along with other textiles that get tossed, like sheets and bedding, the total comes out to 14.3 million tons of textile waste per year. That’s almost 6 percent of all municipal waste. While some of those textiles get recovered, most of it remains in the landfill, posing a variety of problems.
Textiles and decomposing clothing release methane, not to mention the dyes and chemicals in the fabrics that can leach into the soil. Space is another issue, with 11 million tons of textiles equaling about 126 million cubic yards of landfill space.
While donating clothes is an excellent option for keeping textiles out of landfills, the reality in the United States is that we still send 85% of all of our discarded textiles to landfills. Fortunately, however, a large percentage of the textiles that we do throw away can actually be recycled. Today almost 50% of the textiles that are destined for the trash could actually be recycled, which means we as consumers simply need to get better about recycling our clothing and textiles.
There’s an economic benefit to reducing textile waste. For example, if all of the textile waste we normally generate in a year didn’t end up at the landfill, we would be looking at a savings of $375 million in fees alone. That sounds like a lot, but when 85% of our textiles that we throw away could be recycled, it’s a question of municipal governments, businesses and non-profits coming together to create smart solutions for ensuring that we properly deal with our textile waste.
There are already lots of organizations working on this issue, including non-profits, cities and businesses. USAgain runs more than 10,000 textile collection bins in 17 different states, making it easy, where available, for people to drop of their textiles to be recycled instead of dumping them in the garbage. Based in Maryland, the Council for Textile Recycling is a great resource for learning more about textile waste and also has a search tool to find the nearest donation/recycling location closest to you.
With a goal of reaching zero waste by 2020, the City and County of San Francisco promotes textile recycling through drop off bins, and encourages businesses, apartment buildings and community groups to get their own. Patagonia is a great example of a brand invested in textile recycling, with its Common Threads initiative, through which it takes back clothes for either resale if it’s in good enough condition, or recycling if the item is well worn.
Next time you’re cleaning out that closet, make sure to use these and other resources to find out how your clothes can be reused or recycled. Your landfill will thank you.
Photo Credit: Lauren Jong