Recycling Mystery: Clothing

Recycling Mystery: Clothing

Recycling Mystery: Clothing

We have a clothing problem in the United States and it has nothing to do with outdated fashion. The problem is what we do with the clothes we no longer wear.

Is Your Unwanted Clothing Reusable?

What if you need to dispose of clothing that’s torn or stained to the extent that it’s no longer wearable? Some secondhand stores like Goodwill accept all textiles for donation as long as they aren’t “wet or contaminated with hazardous materials.” This is possible because volunteers can make small repairs and secondhand stores have established relationships with textile recyclers to handle unsold clothing.

Of course, shoppers are more likely to purchase clothing that’s in good condition. But in the case of Goodwill, clothing that doesn’t sell in the store has a third and fourth chance for reuse through auctions and outlet stores before recycling even comes into play. Those 16 million tons of clothing and textiles in landfills aren’t there because secondhand stores are getting unsellable clothes; they’re there because consumers assume their unwanted clothes aren’t usable and throw them into the trash.

The Clothing Recycling Market

While secondhand stores do good business, they typically sell less than 20 percent of consumer donations. Luckily, it is possible to recycle old clothing.

According to Secondary Materials and Recovered Textiles Association (SMART), about 45 percent of discarded clothing is reusable. Of the remaining 55 percent, most of it can be recycled: 30 percent is downcycled into industrial rags and 20 percent is processed into fiber that can be used in products like carpet or insulation. The remaining five percent is unusable because of contamination and will end up in a landfill.

Here are a few helpful hints if you want to recycle old clothing:

  1. Make sure all fabric is dry, to avoid mildew.
  2. Check all pockets to make sure they’re empty.
  3. You can’t recycle rags contaminated with car fluids, paint, pesticides, or other hazardous waste due to the hazardous derived-from rule; these need to be treated as hazardous waste. Find a hazardous waste collection site near you.
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