Fleece, flannel, corduroy, cotton, nylon, denim, wool, and linen. What can you do with these fibers when youre finished wearing them, sleeping on them, or draping them over your windows? One way to benefit both your community and the environment is to donate used textiles to charitable organizations. Most recovered household textiles end up at these organizations, who sell or donate the majority of these products. The remainder go to either a textile recovery facility or the landfill.
Just the Facts
- An estimated 13.1 million tons of textiles were generated in 2010, or 5.3 percent of total municipal solid waste (MSW) generation.
- An estimated 14.0 percent of textiles in clothing and footwear and 17.1 percent of items such as sheets and pillowcases was recovered for export or reprocessing in 2010.
- The recovery rate for all textiles was 15.0 percent in 2010, 2.0 million tons.
More Textiles Information
The Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles (SMART) Association is working to increase the amount of textile waste that can be recovered while developing new uses, products and markets for products derived from preconsumer and postconsumer textile waste.
The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service has created a fact sheet on household textile and apparel recycling (PDF) (4 pp, 1.6MB, about PDF) .
Textiles typically are not sorted at the point of collection, but keeping them clean and free from moisture is important. Once clothes get wet, stained, or mildewed, they cannot be sold for reuse. To prevent contamination, many charities offer enclosed drop-off boxes for clothing or other fabrics. Communities with curbside collection for textiles should educate donors on how to properly bag clothing.
Textile recovery facilities separate overly worn or stained clothing into a variety of categories. Based on data from the Council for Textile Recycling, it was estimated that 1.3 million tons of textiles in clothing were recovered for recycling in 2009. Some recovered textiles become wiping and polishing cloths. Cotton can be made into rags or form a component for new high-quality paper. Knitted or woven woolens and similar materials are "pulled" into a fibrous state for reuse by the textile industry in low-grade applications, such as car insulation or seat stuffing. Other types of fabric can be reprocessed into fibers for upholstery, insulation, and even building materials. Buttons and zippers are stripped off for reuse. Very little is left over at the end of the recycling process. The remaining natural materials, such as various grades of cotton, can be composted.