Clothing and household textiles currently make up 6.3 % of the waste stream or the equivalent of 81 pounds per person thrown away annually in the US. Nearly 95% of used clothing and textiles can be reused and recycled. You can help reduce the amount of clothing and textile products going into landfills by reusing or recycling these materials.
The used clothing industry provides lower income people around the world with affordable clothing. Clothing that is damaged, is recycled into wiping rags or ground up into fiber to create new products like, paper, yarn, insulation and carpet padding.
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 Even if the item is stained, torn, overly worn or out-of-date, do not throw it away; it has a use in the clothing recycling industry.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.
Click here for a list of types of textiles that can be recycled.
Nearly 100% of all used clothing and household textiles can be re-used or recycled: 45% are re-used as apparel; 30% are converted into industrial polishing/wiping cloths and 20% are processed into fiber to be manufactured into new products. 95% of all used clothing is recyclable, only 5% is unusable due to mildew or other contamination.
Companies in the textile reuse and recycling industry consist of collectors, processors and distributors of all types of used clothing, textiles and secondary materials.
Collectors are companies that collect used clothing and other household textiles from the public. In addition, recycled textile collectors gather materials from industrial laundries, healthcare institutions, hotels, and other businesses that utilize large amounts of textile products. Another source of textile products that is directed into the recycling stream by "collector" companies is textile waste from clothing manufacturers.
Collectors 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.
Processors sort, grade and reprocess used clothing and household textiles during the recycling process. At the facilities where the collected clothing and textiles are sorted, the items are then made into large bales to be re-sold. The newly created bales of used clothing may be re-sold within the United States, although most often the products are shipped overseas to developing markets in Asia, Africa, Europe, or Central and South America.
Textile processors also collect items from industrial laundries that are deemed to be unfit to be used by the laundry's clients. These items are sorted and bleached to make them more absorbent before they are cut into wiping cloths.
Some companies re-process used clothing back into their original fiber. These companies create blends of fiber that are sold in bales to companies that re-manufacture the fiber content into new products. These products include: home insulation (made from the denim of reprocessed blue jeans), stuffing for furniture, athletic equipment, pet bedding, automotive soundproofing, and carpet padding among many other new products.
Distributors take the used clothing or textiles that are cut or converted into wiping products and then sold to industrial, manufacturing, retail, and other end-use clients. Broker companies fall within the distributor category as well. These businesses facilitate the transactions between collector companies, grader companies and buyers. Materials that are brokered within the used clothing industry include institutional mixed used clothing, clothing gathered by collector companies and materials that have been sorted by grader companies. The clients of brokers are often foreign businesses located in Africa, Asia, Europe, or South America. On occasion, brokers also facilitate transactions among companies within the United States, depending on the needs of their client companies.
SMART members can assist with large quantities of textiles materials such as misprinted t-shirts, linen from hospitals, prisons, hotels, etc.
If you have large quantities and are looking for a textile recycling partner, contact SMART at 301-953-8200 for more information on how to recycle these items.
Read these books:
Travels of a T-shirt by Pietra Rivoli, professor at Georgetown University
Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia by Karen Tranberg Hansen, professor Northwestern University
Sustainable Fashion: What’s Next? By Janet Hethorn and Connie Ulasewicz
Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion
Listen to Georgetown business professor Pietra Rivoli reveal the economic and political lessons from the life story of a simple t-shirt.
A short video on Dr. Hawley and her research on textile recycling:
Yes! Worldwide, there is a big push for companies to promote "green" products. Many people are surprised to learn that reclaimed wipers are actually better for the environment than laundered shop towels because they decrease our global carbon footprint.
SMART encourages local jurisdictions that are seeking to expand their "green" sustainable programs to require the use of new or reclaimed wipers within their facilities. Local jurisdictions which operate clothing and textile recycling programs can "close the loop" by incorporating new or reclaimed wipers into their purchasing practices.
Many SMART members also handle rag-like disposable wipers, which are mostly converted product from pre-consumer waste from U.S- based non-woven textile mills that have strict requirements for the materials they manufacture. While these materials are often restricted with regard to application and usage, they offer a better alternative with regard to size, performance, i.e. highly absorbent, strong, low lint, and often offer a cost savings as compared to rental shop towels.
A few facts: