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Approximately 93% of all textile waste diverted to recycling is successfully reclaimed, yet 85% goes directly to landfills.

By Adrian Desbarats Posted May 24, 2010

recycle-clothingDid you know that approximately 12 million tons of textile waste is generated each year in North America amounting to approximately 68 lbs of waste per household per year! An astounding 5% of all landfill production is textile waste. So, what can we do as individuals to help reduce this environmental impact?

The textile recycling industry is one of the first recycling industries to be formed. Given the maturity of this industry it is very, very efficient. In fact, approximately 93% of all textile waste diverted to recycling is successfully reclaimed with about 35% going out as used clothing, 33% as reprocessed fibers (filler in vehicle seats and, upholstery, insulation, etc), 25% is converted to cloth wipes and 7% to landfill.

The interesting thing is that there is massive demand for used clothing, reprocessed fibers and cloth wipes. The recycling industry cannot get its hands on enough material to keep up with this demand. However, the recycling industry reclaims only 15% of the total textile waste that is produced. So what about that additional 85% that goes straight to landfill? Well the tragedy is that over 90% of that textile waste is perfectly recyclable. It just never gets to the recycling companies.

The tragedy is that over 90% of that textile waste is perfectly recyclable.

And that is where we have to assume greater responsibility. The 85% of textile waste isn’t getting to the recyclers because it is not getting sorted at the domestic level. So, what can we do? Well, if you have old but wearable clothing that you want to get rid of, have a yard sale or hand them down to friends or family. Or, you could donate the items to a charitable organization. There are many such organizations both in Canada and the US.

In Canada, go to Charity Village. They provide a very comprehensive list of all Charities that accept used clothing. It is also a great place to find out where to donate other household items like electronics, furniture, building materials, old vehicles, etc.

In the US there are a variety of options such as:

  • The Charity Guide offers a lot of options for recycling of women’s clothing across the country.
  • The Vietnam Veterans Association also accepts clothing and other household donations. The organization has donation facilities in 30 states which are listed its site and you can even schedule a pick-up online!
  • The Salvation Army and Goodwill are two venerable organizations that are nationally located and accept used clothing.

A really neat site that can be used to find more localized charities is the Charity Navigator. By using the Advanced Search feature, you can search for charities by focus (environmental, social, animal health, international, etc) and by state. This site also provides a great overview of each charity (over 5,300 charities in their database). Not all of the charities on this list will accept used clothing so you would have to browse around a bit to find a suitable charity that is represented in your state. Alternatively, just type the word “clothing” in the keyword field for a sure fire way to find charities that do accept clothing donations.

The Better Business Bureau offers a nice guideline here to help you ensure your used clothing is going to a good cause and to help you claim the donation for tax purposes if that is your desire.

If the clothing is not wearable, convert it into wipes that can be used around the house to clean up spills, wash your car, etc. If you are handy with a sewing machine, the clothing materials could be re-purposed into items such as cloth bags, hats, mitts, quilts, etc. Let your creativity run wild!

Even if the clothing is un-wearable and you don’t have the time to do anything with it, ask the Charity if they will still accept the item(s). In most cases the charities have agreements with recyclers to accept any clothing items that are un-wearable.

But whatever option you choose, it is important to know that there are options. We all live busy lives but with a little effort we as a society have the capacity to divert over 10 million tons of textile waste from the landfills each year! A prime example of how a little effort can go a long way!

About the Author:
Adrian Desbarats is the owner of Fashion and Earth Inc, an organic clothing and eco friendly clothing e-retailer. Adrian is passionate about the topic of sustainability and believes very strongly that we are not as powerless to effect change as we may feel. We can change the world, one individual commitment at a time! If you want to learn more about eco-fashion, you can visit Adrian at www.FashionandEarth.com.

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  • Organic mom

    Using organic clothing and, of course, washable organic diapers will help this situation quite a bit. The thought of clothes and diapers loading up landfills for decades to come is terrible, isnt it?

  • daniel

    Adrian, Thank You for your contribution in protecting our environment for future generations.

  • Brooke Farrell

    Adrian –

    Great post. I’d love to connect with you via email. Your interest in this subject and involvement in the industry sparks some ideas on how we might help each others’ causes.

    My company, RecycleMatch, is an online marketplace that makes it easy for companies and organizations to buy, sell or give waste and recyclables. We have a great many textile recycling examples and case studies, and hope to grow it even more. I agree – it’s a very underserved piece of the recycling puzzle. We aim to shine more light on that, so would love to figure out how we can connect.

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