Most consumers participate in recycling newspapers and aluminum cans. They also know to return used car batteries for recycling and also old electronic equipment such as cell phones, printers, and computers. Another kind of recycling is called textile recycling, and it is a valuable part of sustainable living.
Textile recycling is the reuse or reprocessing of used clothing, clothing scraps resulting from the manufacturing process, or other fibrous materials into new products.
According to the EPA, over nine billion pounds of used clothing is generated each year, but only a fraction is recycled. Textile waste accounts for 5% of landfill use.
This is an area that we can reduce, because there are plenty of businesses out there that use recycled textile waste. It is used by commercial cloth producers, fiber recyclers, and clothing wholesalers and exporters. It is used for paper products, carpet backing, and insulation. The markets are there, it is just a matter of getting more of those nine billion pounds into recycling.
Second Hand Clothes Sales
Some may not realize, but second-hand clothing stores and garage sales are actually part of the textile recycling movement. Though not technically a “recycling” of the products, it is a “reuse” of the products that helps to extend their lifespan. Good clothes that are no longer wanted are sold for greatly reduced prices, instead of being thrown out. Many people both buy and sell used clothes, whether it is in consignment shops or a neighborhood rummage sale. It is especially popular with babies and children clothes where most items are only worn a few times.
Reusing clothes not only reduces landfill waste, but it also helps to create jobs and contribute to the revenues at the local, state, and national levels. And clothes that cannot be sold by second-hand stores or organizations like Goodwill are sent on to textile recycling firms to be used for new products.
There are also businesses that use textile recycling to help other organizations raise funds. One such business has a school fundraising program where students and their families, as well as faculty, are encouraged to bring clothes they no longer want and put in collection bins provided by the recycling business. There is no cost to the school and the business empties the bins weekly and pays a portion of the proceeds to the school. This is a win on all sides as the recycler gets textiles and the schools earn extra fundraising money for teams, bands, and other school groups. Schools can earn tens of thousands of dollars to fund extra programs, and a similar program exists for communities.
Textile recycling is also gaining ground in residential and commercial building waste pickup. In the past big bundles of old carpeting and padding were just thrown in the trucks and dumped in landfills. Now recyclers are collecting these unwanted textiles and getting them into recycling streams. And firms that provide curbside trash pickup are treating these as recyclable materials and converting them for an additional income sources.
There are so many paper and fabric products that are made with recycled textiles, and according to the EPA study, used clothing is the eighth largest US export. Textile recycling creates jobs, contributes revenue, and helps to reduce landfills and our impact on the environment.