Many SMART member-companies can be identified as "collectors", companies that collect used clothing and other household textiles from the public (post-consumer). In addition, recycled textile collectors gather materials from industrial laundries, healthcare institutions, hotels, and other businesses that utilize large amounts of textile products (post-consumer). Another source of textile products that is directed into the recycling stream by "collector" companies is textile waste from clothing manufacturers (pre-consumer). Collectors of used clothing bale and sell these clothing products "as is" to clothing graders or other dealers. Used clothing "graders" sort the items assign a "grade" and re-sell the graded product. The activities of collectors, graders, and used clothing brokers are instrumental in diverting solid waste from landfills.
In some cases collectors work directly with local governments, communities, or other organizations, that may benefit from a clothing collection/recycling program. Companies that specialize in collecting used clothing often operate their own clothing collection boxes to accumulate clothing and household textiles. In many cases, these companies partner with a charitable organization, placing the charity's logo on the clothing collection boxes and in return paying a license fee or a portion of the goods collected to support the charity's primary mission. Items collected include clothing, household linens, towels, sheets, curtains, stuffed animals, shoes, hats, purses and belts.
Textiles Acceptable for Re-use or Recycling
Any clothing, household textile or commercial linen textile as long as it is DRY and has NO ODOR can be reused and recycled. Even if the item is stained, torn, overly worn or out-of-date, do not throw it away; it has a use in the clothing recycling industry.
Only items that are wet (mildewed) or have been used with a solvent-type liquid (gasoline, Goof Off, etc.) cannot be recycled.
Many SMART member companies collect used clothing and textile items for recycling. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, only 15.3% of clothing and textiles are being diverted from the waste stream for recycling purposes, meaning 85% of textiles still end up in the landfill.
There are a variety of ways you can help to ensure your clothes/textiles are recycled. Some communities include clothing and household textiles in their curbside recycling programs; if your community does not offer curbside collection of used clothing, you can petition your local government officials to consider adding used clothing to an existing curbside collection program. Other convenient ways to recycle used clothing and/or household textiles include:
- Utilizing clothing collection bins. SMART recommends you only utilize a bin that clearly states the name of the organization operating the bin, describes its business practices and keeps the bin area neat and clean.
- Work with local charities to sponsor neighborhood collection drives.
- Utilize door-to-door pick-up services.
- Organize recycling events with local schools. Be sure to use SMART's Recycling Rangers Textile Recycling Program to teach kids the importance of recycling. (Click here to read more about this program)
SMART member companies that collect and recycle used clothing are required to adhere to a strict code of conduct. SMART's Clothing Collection Bin Operator Code of Conduct guides members on the best practices in operating their bins. The Code requires transparency in business practice, adherence to local zoning regulations, obtaining permission to place collection bins and properly maintaining the bins.
As they recycle used clothing, SMART companies rely largely on human labor, providing thousands of jobs to unskilled and semi-skilled individuals. Recycling used clothing is far less energy and water-intensive than other recycling industries. In addition, the recycling of used clothing releases fewer greenhouse pollutants than nearly all other recycling industries.
SMART member collector companies are your first resource for any questions you may have about recycling used clothing in your area. SMART members can also assist you in starting a used clothing collection program by providing the equipment and/or services you may need to recycle used clothing and household textiles and to keep them out of a landfill.
SMART member companies collect goods in various ways:
- By being the outlet for goods collected by local governments at their waste facilities;
- By operating clothing collection bin programs;
- By purchasing the items not sold from major charitable organizations, also from local consignment and thrift shops;
- By sponsoring recycling events with local governments, community organizations and charities
- By collecting worn linens from industrial laundries;
- By collecting the remnants (mill ends) from clothing manufacturers;
- And, by providing the outlet for goods collected from curbside recycling programs (where available).
Work with a SMART member today to increase textile recycling in your area!