On April 22, 1970, thousands of Americans joined together to launch a new environmental movement known as "Earth Day." Those early environmental pioneers encouraged Americans to reconsider what kind of cars we drive, what chemicals we use to produce food, what types of energy we use, and how we personally impact our surroundings. In the 46 years since, Americans have accepted paper, plastic, aluminum and glass as every day recyclables—yet, the second largest recyclable is still underutilized: textiles.
Perhaps due to the rise of fast fashion and consumerism, Americans' generation of textile waste has grown nearly 15 times over since the EPA first measured municipal waste in 1960. In 2013, Americans threw away more than 15 million tons of textiles, in comparison to just 1.7 million tons in 1960. Of that 15 million tons, about 15 percent was recovered for reuse and recycling.1
While awareness and action has increased over the decades to recycle textiles, it's still not enough. Approximately 95 percent of textile waste can be reused or recycled in some manner. It might be interesting to know that recycling textiles has a greater impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions than the other widely accepted recyclables of aluminum and glass. Recycling 2 million tons of textiles is the equivalent of removing 1 million cars from U.S. roads—imagine if we recycled more!
SMART and its members are dedicated to reducing the world's carbon footprint by being a part of the textile recycling process. This Earth Day, we launched a statewide initiative in Massachusetts to encourage residents to think differently about what they do with unwanted clothing, footwear, linens, bedding, and more. You don't have to be a Massachusetts resident to join the movement, everyone is responsible for being an ambassador to our Earth.
If you ever think the task of changing the world is daunting, just remember that 46 years ago, a group of people decided to promote environmental consciousness and it worked. If we join together for a common cause, we have the power to make a difference in our world and shape future generations to come. Let's be the change and movement that makes textiles a household recyclable.
1 Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures 2013