Recycling unwanted clothing reduces landfill waste as well as the amount of resources needed to produce new clothing. It also lessens the waste produced by the manufacturing process --- clothing scraps end up in the landfill, too. Used clothing can be donated, sold or disassembled for the fabric.
Americans discard an estimated 68 pounds of clothing a year, while buying 10 pounds of recycled clothes. In 2006, 2.5 billion pounds of fabric were kept from the landfills by used-clothing purchases (see References 4). Yet about 99 percent of what is thrown away can be recycled. Clothing and household textiles, consisting of fabrics such as cotton, polyester, nylon and rayon, make up almost 5 percent of the total garbage in landfills. (See References 1)
There are multiple environmental benefits associated with recycling clothing. It reduces the amount of pesticides used in growing cotton or to make fabrics from petroleum sources and the water needed to dye fabrics, and cuts down on the pollutants, greenhouse gases and volatile organic compounds released into the water and air from manufacturing processes. (See References 2)
Donation and Resale
Clothes are typically recycled by donating them to charities like the Salvation Army or Goodwill Industries, which will provide tax forms for deductions. You can also sell them at consignment stores for store credit or cash or on the Internet through auction or donation sites. Charities will either sell the used clothing and use the proceeds for their work, or donate the items to the needy. About 20 percent of clothing donations are turned over to thrift shops. The remainder, sold to textile recyclers, can end up as wiping rags, insulation, upholstery stuffing, ingredients in paper products or used clothing exports. (See References 5)
Benefits to the Consumer and the Industry
Customers who buy used clothing also benefit from what are usually substantially lower prices, compared to the price of new clothes. Recycled clothing also creates jobs at charity organizations, consignment stores and businesses that reuse the fabric to make products for sale. Cleaning rags, blankets, new clothes and even the U.S. dollar are examples of products that may contain fabric from recycled clothing. The U.S. textile recycling industry consists of about 2,000 companies, most of which are family-owned. They provide about 17,000 jobs and account for gross sales of $700 million every year. (See References 3)
Lexa W. Lee is a New Orleans-based writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has contributed to "Central Nervous System News" and the "Journal of Naturopathic Medicine," as well as several online publications. Lee holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from Reed College, a naturopathic medical degree from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine and served as a postdoctoral researcher in immunology.
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