Textile recycling options abound no matter where you live. Textiles are defined by Dictionary.com as “any cloth or goods produced by weaving, knitting or felting.” That is a pretty wide category, so this article we will focus on how to recycle clothing. If you are interested in how to recycle other types of textiles, such as fabric or rags, check out our other articles on 1800Recycling.com. Recycling clothing is a pretty big topic itself. According to the nonprofit Council for Textile Recycling, the average American disposes of 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles every year. That adds up to about 3.8 billion pounds of (sometimes perfectly good) textile waste that is thrown away annually. Even though clothing is pretty easy to reuse or recycle — even if it is stained or damaged — 85% of our textile waste ends up in landfills. In fact, 5% of everything that heads to U.S. landfills and incinerators is textile waste. There is a better way! You can donate your clothing to a thrift store, repurpose it yourself or give it to someone who will recycle it. Almost every community has some way to recycle or reuse clothing and other textiles. How to reuse clothingClothing is very easy to reuse. Thrift stores are always on the lookout for clothing, since many of them sell more clothing than anything else. Even if your town does not have a thrift store, it may have a donation box placed there by a charity or other clothing reuse organization. It is best to wash clothing before you place it in a donation bin, since most charities cannot clean items before they hang them on their racks. But whatever you do, make sure all your textiles are dry before you drop them off. Wet textiles can get musty or moldy, and one piece is enough to spoil everything in a storage bin. If your charity of choice chooses to bale your old clothing and ship it overseas (a common practice), any wet clothes within the bales can breed bacteria, which has been known to cause the bales to spontaneously combust. To ensure your clothing will be reused, you can also sell it yourself through a garage sale or clothing swap — both practices that have become more popular in recent years. To host a clothing swap, gather friends will similar tastes and sizes and ask them to bring clothing and accessories they no longer want. There are lots of articles with expert advice on how to host a clothing swap online. Here is one from Real Simple magazine. How to recycle clothingClothing and other textiles that cannot be reused get recycled in several ways. One is technically a reuse option: Clothing that is unsuitable for the American market gets compressed into giant bales and shipped overseas. Summer clothing goes to hot climates in Africa and South America; winter clothing heads to colder places like the mountainous regions of Asia. Thrift stores and private individuals bale clothing for recycling. Another way to recycle clothing is to cut it into rags, which are used to clean cars and machinery. Check with local thrift stores to see if they make rags (also called industrial wipers); see if a private company near you does it; or ask your mechanic if they cut rags from old textiles. Certain retailers, including trendy H&M and outdoorsy The North Face, will take back clothing and other textiles for recycling. In some cases, they may even give you a discount on future purchases. To see if the company that made your garments accepts its clothing back for recycling, check its website. Curbside clothing recycling programs are becoming more common, says an article in USA Today. Worcester, MA, works with the local Salvation Army chapter to do curbside clothing pick-up. Issaquah, WA, collects it in partnership with its local waste hauler. Many of these programs will also accept accessories like shoes, belts, purses and bags, so if your community has a clothing pick-up program, see if you can send them other items as well. If you look hard enough, you may find someone who will pick clothing and other textiles apart and turn them into new products, but this is rare. It takes specialized machinery to shred clothing, and it must be cleaned if it is intended for further human use, meaning the ways to use that textile “fluff” are limited. For more on how clothing and other textiles get recycled, check out this handy infographic from the Council for Textile Recycling. How to repurpose clothingUpcycling clothing into new designs is a popular trend right now. Hundreds of designers cut up clothing like old sweaters, jackets, skirts and other items; combine them with textiles like lace and yarn; and turn them into new clothing, accessories or even household items. For ideas on how to upcycle your clothing into uniquely cool designs, check out websites like All Free Sewing or one of my personal favorites, New Dress a Day. If you just want to purchase upcycled clothing, check out Etsy, the popular marketplace for artisans. My Oly Girl’s beautiful skirt made from old sweaters and Curious Orange Cat’s tunic dress made from button-down shirts and vintage lace are just a couple examples of the beautiful designs that await you.
About the author Sophia Bennett is a freelance writer based in Eugene, OR. Her work has been featured in more than a dozen magazines, newspapers and blogs. She is a dedicated home recycler, an avid thrift store shopper and a huge compost nerd. Sophia's other professional experience include six years with the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County, an internationally recognized leader in the field of nonprofit waste-based business development, and a year as an economic development and recycling coordinator in the U.K. She's volunteered with the Oregon State University Extension Service Compost Specialist program and Willamette Farm and Food Coalition. In her spare time she enjoys cooking, reading, crafts, gardening and spending time with her husband and twin daughters.