Textile Recycling 101

This image was originally posted to Flickr by Unhindered by Talent at http://flickr.com/photos/26406919@N00/16276040

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.

(AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

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.

This image is property of The Council for Textile Recycling.

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For the Love of Feet!

For the past month, shoe shopping has been the bain of my existence. Having graduated from college, I am forced to face the fact that living in my dearly loved Sanuk flip-flops is no longer acceptable. I am trying get the world to take me seriously as a freelance artist and business women while the only thing my flops take seriously is the beach. So, the trials begin.

My demands in the shoe department leave even the most seasoned retail veterans cowering in the back corner of the storeroom. The shoe I want is eco-friendly and comfy (as my flops rather loudly suggest, I am a bit of a bum). Sounds easily enough, but that is just the beginning. I also need elegant and affordable. This is where the headache starts. Eco-friendly shoes that are elegant are rather expensive and those that I can afford are only available online, which means that I have no idea about the comfy factor.

Sometimes, knowledge is a burden. No matter how hard I try, I simply can’t justify buying a new pair of standard of shoes. I use to tell myself it was ok since I honestly wear my shoes to death, but even a worn out pair of conventional shoes leaves a negative ecological imprint. The standard pair of shoes is created with a brand-new rubber sole that takes at least 1,000 years to decompose. Considering how many pairs of shoes the average person goes through in a life time, that fact is astounding.  Since I absolutely need shoes, I decided to do a bit of research to aid in making a wise decision in my next shoe purchase.

leather: 24-40 years

cork: 8-9 years

canvas: 1 year

wood: 8 weeks-2 months

I know that the eco-friendly/sustainability issue goes much further than decomposition, but for now that is about as far as my budget will allow me to go.  I have been combing my favorite recycling facility (thrift store) for a like-new pair of suitable shoes in my size, but unless I hit pay dirt soon I will have to break down and make an informed purchase of conventionally made shoes.  Knowing that cork is a sustainable resource does make it more desirable than wood (dispite woods quick decomposition rate), so I will be looking for pair of cork wedges with a neutral colored canvas upper.  In the mean time, I am seriously doing some research on making my own shoes.

’bout Bamboo

Any way you look at it, bamboo is an amazing plant. Although it can grow to the size of a tree, bamboo is a grass. Giant bamboo is the largest member of the grass family and can grow up to 50ft in height. There are varieties of this grass that grow well in nearly every climate and growing “well” can be an understatement for bamboo. This plant is known to grow up to 60 cm (nearly 2 feet) a day in an ideal environment!

In addition to it’s amazing feats of growth, bamboo also some other fascinating attributes.  Bamboo is a hardy plant that thrives with out the use of pesticides and fertilizers.  It also has  the ability to reach its full size in one growing season and is ready for harvest in as little as 3 years.  In the hands of a responsable farmer, bamboo has the potential to be a 100% sustainable crop.

Some of you are starting to wonder.  Bamboo on a fashion blog…what’s up with that?  There is a method to my madness.  Readers who follow fiber content labels on clothing will affirm that bamboo is becoming more and more popular in the clothing we wear everyday.  From infant to adult, work to leisure, bamboo fabrics are showing up everywhere.  And why shouldn’t they?  Bamboo fabric feels amazing against the skin, has natural moisture wicking and antibacterial properties, and is temperature regulating. 

The most commonly used bamboo fabric is rayon. Bamboo rayon is produced by chemically breaking down bamboo fibers to create a lightweight, breathable fabric with an incredibly soft hand. While the chemicals generally used aren’t the most eco-friendly, the over all production of bamboo rayon is less caustic than the production of conventional cotton.

As with anything relatively new, there are skeptics and nay-sayers.  I won’t say that bamboo is going to save the earth or that it is the new wonder fiber.  What I will say is that it is a smart and viable option in a world full of uncertainty.