Packaging and food waste are some of the most common things in your daily life that you recycle. Paper, plastic and glass are processed for reuse, while food scraps are turned into compost that enriches the soil and helps reduce landfill emissions. But what about old clothes?
Most people donate their old clothes or throw them away if they are torn or excessively worn. However, old clothing can be recycled, which provides a significant reduction in waste and offers valuable materials for many industries.
Clothing recycling rarely receives the attention it deserves, and spreading the word can make a difference.
Why recycle your clothes?
Recycling your clothes helps reduce landfill waste and protects the environment (and human health) from toxic chemicals in clothing.
How much do clothes contribute to landfills?
In the United States, up to 85% of textiles end up in landfills or are incinerated. Much of that discarded clothing comes from retailers who throw out leftover stock once new items arrive for the next season. This adds up to millions of tons of fabric waste that burden landfills and require thousands of man-hours to process.
Effect of discarded clothing on the environment
The materials that make up your clothing can take anywhere from a year to more than two centuries to decompose. Shirts, dresses, shoes, boots, jackets, belts, hats and many other items contain a variety of chemicals that are used in their production. That is why it is vital to purchase clothing from manufacturers that use chemical testing of their garments.
While recycling your clothing is always best, if you decide to donate or throw away your old clothes, it is essential to know that these items do not contain substances that burden the environment with their toxicity. Runoff from landfills can reach groundwater and, at the same time, affect wildlife in the area.
The recycling process
The clothing recycling process begins by collecting clothing from households and sorting it into categories according to its material composition. Some clothing contains pieces of plastic, leather or wood that need to be removed. Once the fabric is separated, it is converted into fiber that is used in everything from carpeting and furniture to material for the automotive industry.
Most clothing can be recycled, as long as it is clean and dry. This also includes other fabrics, such as bedding or furniture covers.
Most of the clothing that is recycled does not end up as new clothing. This is partly due to the fact that many garments are made of fabrics with combinations such as labels, zippers or threads made of different materials. Sorting these textiles for recycling can be time consuming.
One thing you can do to make sure your clothing is recycled is to remove items such as buttons or zippers before recycling. hyperspectral cameras are also being developed.
Doing your part
Luckily, recycling your clothes is something you can do without much effort.
Start by donating any items in good condition that you don’t plan to use. Organizations like the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and local homeless shelters are places that will gladly accept your clothing.
If you enjoy gardening, you can create a compost pile where old cotton shirts can help enrich the soil for your crops. You can also look for a clothing recycling program in your area or make an effort to take your old items to a recycling garbage can in a nearby town.
Creating a healthier environment through sustainable practices is not just about radical changes at the national and international level. Small changes in our daily behavior can add up to huge gains that end up eclipsing even the most ambitious government policies. Clothing recycling is one such change.