By Larraine Roulston:
For the most part, we want our unwanted clothing to be reused. Many mothers pass their children’s outgrown outfits to friends’ children, while women of various ages host clothes swapping parties. Supporting local thrift stores and clothing drop boxes are other examples.
Torn and stained textiles do not belong in landfills. Currently, textiles account for 5.2% of the waste stream — a percentage that translates into 3.8 billion pounds annually. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average person discards 70 pounds of clothing per year. A USA Today article points out that in the United States alone, 11.1 million tons of textiles get thrown away annually, despite the fact that there are recyclers who accept all fabrics in various conditions. Waste Management World notes that every year 1 million tons of textiles in the U.K. end up in landfills. They also reported that this is the fastest growing sector in terms of household waste.
The Canadian Diabetes Association Clothesline collects fabrics, hopefully not in disrepair. However, as Cheryl Findlay emphasizes, “Our part in keeping apparel out of landfill[s] is to pick up all sources of unwanted clothing and linens. In turn, we sell our collections by the pound to places like Value Village, where they are either taken to their store locations or sold to companies that recycle fabrics into other products. Some of these clothes are baled for reuse in mostly overseas countries where prices and demand have risen.”
India, for instance, imports unwanted fabrics for repurposing or recycling. As this journal article notes, “Recycling of textiles was a domestic craft in India, but currently there are textile clusters and small scale industries to work on secondhand imported clothing and create a range of products, like recycled yarns, doormats, prayer rugs, blankets and bed linens.”
As the international prices per pound have been slowly rising, more U.S. towns are introducing curbside collection of textiles. Queen Creek, Arizona, partnered with United Fiber and launched a curbside pilot project that in four months collected 27,000 pounds of material, earning the city approximately $3,000. In New York City, clothing collection bins are now in nearly 250 apartment buildings. Businesses are placing clothing drop boxes in suitable locations, while retailers such as The Running Room sports equipment store accepts wearable shoes from customers for donation to mission homes. The North Face and H&M have set up bins inside their stores and, in some areas, offer customers vouchers for their donations. Although the city of Markham does not have a curbside recycling program to accept fabrics, it is but one Ontario municipality that now offers public education about fabric recycling with its “how to” recycling information sheets.
Fundraising opportunities! According to Ottawa’s Shanda White of The Used Clothing Drive, “We take it all .. nothing is wasted. There’s a market for what’s called mixed rag in our industry. Unusable clothing is used for insulation, cleaning rags, etc. Whatever cannot be reused or repurposed is efficiently recycled. Our two most recent fundraising schools together collected 46,000 pounds.”
By choosing quality fabrics that will endure, you will be saving natural resources and reducing the need for chemicals in manufacturing new products. Clothes will also last longer if washed less frequently and hung to dry. Also, inquire at local retailers whether they accept clothes for recycling, which will spark an interest in the demand for such a service.
If you have not already done so, read Green-mom’s Amanda Wilkes’ recent article, “Ethical Wardrobes:Gratified World,” which emphasizes the great environmental impact clothes and fashion have on our environment.
Larraine authors children’s illustrated adventure books on composting. Visit www.castlecompost.com