The average American throws out 70 pounds of clothing every year. A staggering 85% ends up in a landfill. Here’s why you should recycle all textiles.
Even a worn T-shirt can have a second life if you donate it to an organization like Goodwill or put it in a textile recycling bin in your town, says Eric Stubin, chairman of the Council for Textile Recycling. “People tell me, 'Oh, I had a towel with a hole in it or a sock with a hole in it. I thought I had to throw it out.' They don't realize that is still useful. Worn or torn is the message we're trying to get out."
Eric is president of a third-generation family recycling business, Trans-Americas Trading Co., which processes 16 million pounds of clothing annually. Sorting the vast quantities of clothes he collects is the key to profits. Should an item be cut up for an industrial wipe? Does it have the right brand and the right colors to sell in Africa, Asia, Central or South America?
His skilled sorters go through the textiles and assign them one of these four fates:
- 45% are resold to secondhand clothing dealers, primarily in foreign markets.
- 30% is cut up for the rags or wipes that are used by bartenders, auto mechanics, painters and a multitude of industrial workers.
- 20% is shredded for carpet padding, acoustical tiles, car sound dampening, denim insulation, recycled fiber for clothing and more.
- 5% is waste.
In the United States, the reuse market for secondhand clothes is small. Charities like Goodwill are only able to sell 20% of the donations they receive. That means 80% of the items received are shipped to textile recyclers. That arrangement generates revenue for the charities—and keeps textiles out of the landfill.
Textile Recycling Tips
Donate all textiles—worn, torn or stained—including shoes, belts, linens, towels, accessories, curtains, stuffed animals, ties, undergarments, purses, pillows, pet beds and pet
Do not donate anything that is mildewed or covered with paint or chemicals.
Be aware that drop boxes that cite organizations like "Fight Crime" or "Stop Child Abuse" are often not owned by charities but rather by private companies that recycle textiles for profits.