Every year in the United States, over 10 million tons of textiles are manufactured and account for 4% of all the waste entering landfills. The word textile is a board term and encompasses everything from the garments we wear and the sheets on our beds to the carpets in our living rooms and the cushions on our chairs. This wide class of manufactured goods can be broken down into two general categories, materials like carpets and mattresses that have a relatively long life span and those like garments and bedding which are often views as seasonal or disposable textiles.
The entire concept of a “disposable” item is itself deceitful. Even if an item (like a cotton t-shirt) is 100% bio-degradable, sending the item to a landfill is wasting all the resources that went into its production. No manufacturing plant is operated without large amounts of electricity, water, and human effort. This is not to mention the coal, oil, water, electricity, etc that was spent obtaining the raw materials for use in the plant’s production (never mind the raw materials themselves). Unfortunately, the modern fashion industry has built empires around an ever revolving door of so call “disposable fashion.” The “must have” item from last fall’s runway is suddenly hideous in the light of spring and in its place is another garment with an equally limited lifespan.
If the world of fashionstas and fashionistos can’t be persuaded to the side of slow fashion, we must at the very least preach and promote the accessibility of textile recycling. The world of textile recycling is a double sided coin that shines as brightly on one side as it does the other. Not only does it aid the environment, but it also aids our fellow man.
The simplest and most accessible way to recycle unused textiles is through donations to companies like Goodwill and The Salvation Army. Of the 2.5 billion pounds of textiles recycled each year in the United States, 50% are recycled through charitable organizations that sort, donate, and/or resell otherwise unwanted items. Besides providing clothing to needy individuals, these companies frequently sponsor programs that offer education and/or employment to otherwise unemployable segments of the population. Even garments and linens that are stained or torn can be donated to such charities because a portion of their income is obtained by selling unusable textile goods to recycling centers.
At the textile recycling center, otherwise unwanted textile goods are cut up and/or broken down to create new products for the consumer market. Cotton may be cut into rags for polishing and cleaning purposes or broken down into fiber to create high quality paper goods. Wool may be shredded to create insulation or upholstery stuffing. Findings such as buttons and zippers are removed and set aside for reuse in new garments. Unusable natural materials eventually find their way to a compost pile, leaving as little as 5% total waste product.