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EPA says clothing recycling has massive impact

| October 16, 2013

When you think of “recycling,” what items come to mind? Bottles? Cans? Newspapers?

These are (arguably) the items most commonly associated with recycling, and as a result, we’re conditioned to think that they’re the ones with the biggest environmental impact.

Not so, says a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report is entitled, “Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2011. According to the report, highlighted in Recycling Product News, current levels of textile and clothing recycling have the highest impact on reducing greenhouse gases.

clothing recycling

Clothing banks make it easy to recycle the clothes you’ve stopped wearing. From GerryJ10.

That’s incredibly significant, especially when you consider that clothing and textiles are up against the glass, plastics, and paper for the title of “highest level impact.”

Suddenly all your clothes seem to have a green color to them, don’t they? (Just kidding.)

Here’s how clothing recycling weighs in (literally) compared to other items, according to the EPA:

  • Clothing: 2 million tons recycled annually
  • Yard trimmings: 19.3 million tons recycled annually
  • Glass: 3.17 million tons recycled annually
  • Plastics: 2.65 million tons recycled annually
  • Aluminum:0.72 million tons recycled annually

So if clothing recycling pales in comparison to, say, yard trimmings from a weight perspective, why is the impact so great? Apparently, it’s all about bang for your pound (so to speak). The EPA reports that: “clothing recycling today has an equivalent impact of removing one million cars from the roads of the United States. That is more than five times the impact of recycled yard trimmings, more than four times the impact of glass recycling, more than plastics recycling, and it is nearly the same impact as that of recycling aluminum.”

So it’s not weight, but the impact, that really matters. Knowing how impactful clothing recycling can be should motivate all of us to dig through our closets and give new life to unwanted clothes.

clothing recycling

British department store Marks & Spencer covered buildings with used, donated clothing as apart of their “shwopping” campaign to encourage clothing recycling. From Su–May.

If you’re a habitual clothing recycler, it might surprise you to hear that Americans currently recycle only 15 percent of clothing and textiles. That’s a paltry number, especially given the potential environmental impact of clothing and textile recycling.

That means there is the potential for a massive upside if we get our acts together and start finding smarter ways to dispose of last year’s dress that’s now too big, or that old slipcover that doesn’t quite fit your new couch.

Lou Buty, president of the U.S.-based Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART) says, “The message the public needs to hear is ‘Donate, recycle, don’t throw away’ when it comes to their clothing and household textiles.”

“The EPA estimates that 6.5 percent of all materials going into landfills and/or municipal incinerators are clothing and textile products that could have been recycled,” says the Recycling Product News article.

Representatives from SMART remind us that clothing doesn’t have to be perfect to be recycled. “Even if clothing is torn or stained, there are uses for it in the recycling industry,” says SMART’s executive director, Jackie King.

Make an impact. Spread awareness in your community about the importance of clothing and textile recycling. You could even set up a clothing drive to put unwanted clothing to even better use. Change starts with you!

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Category: Blog Landing Page, Recycling programs

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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