Eco Talk: Keep old textiles out of the trash

Eco Talk: Keep old textiles out of the trash

Clothes folded in a recycling sign on a white background

Did the cooler temperatures over Labor Day weekend and all the discussion that “summer is over” have you evaluating what clothes you are keeping for next year and trying on your fall wardrobe? If you, like me, did (or are about to) that, I hope you will take a few minutes more to "reduce, reuse, recycle" any out-of-date, worn, torn or stained clothing, shoes and other household textiles rather than taking the easy way and tossing them in the trash.

Why the concern about discarding textiles in the trash? According to the nonprofit Council for Textile Recycling, the average U.S. citizen disposes of approximately 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles, which includes footwear, accessories, towels, bedding, draperies each year — when almost all of it can be recycled. These items should be clean and dry, but do not need to be in wearable condition.

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the textile recycling industry recycles about 3.8 billion pounds of textile waste each year; however, this only accounts for 15% of all textile waste. The other 85% will find its way to landfills. These discarded textiles will use about 5% of all landfill space, which is both expensive and shrinking.

About 20 years ago the apparel industry started producing newer and more styles of clothing with greater frequently than in the past. This trend is referred to as fast fashion, as newer styles are sold at cheaper prices. But there is a cost to fast fashion. The rate of recycling textiles has remained at 15% for over a decade and shows no sign of increasing. The environmental implications when purchasing less expensive and trendy clothing are discussed at length through a web search for fast fashion.

Since the mid-1940s charities and the textile recycling industry have repurposed and recycled billions of pounds of clothing, household textiles, shoes and accessories. Did you realize that one pair of shoes weighs about one pound? So do three T-shirts, a bed sheet, a dress, several items children’s clothing, even a backpack. Additionally, belts, purses, stuffed animals and sneakers can also be recycled.

Locally we have been recycling plastic, aluminum and metals and cardboard for years; it almost seems second nature to many. Now we need to consider the value in recycling unwanted clothing and household textiles. There are various opportunities to recycles textiles; we just have to look. Both for-profit and nonprofit organizations will accept textiles. What is placed in the bins is sorted and is resold or sent to developing countries.

Items that cannot be reused in their original form because they are ripped or stained can be repurposed into industrial rags, insulation, stuffing for upholstery, carpet padding and sometimes into paper products. According to CRT, 45% of the collected textiles are exported to other countries as secondhand clothing; 30% is recycled and turned into wiping rags used in industrial settings and as absorbents; 20% is recycled into fibers used to make insulation, carpet padding and materials used by the automotive industry; the remaining 5% is waste.

Textiles that find their way into landfills, even those made with natural fibers, do not degrade under landfill conditions because there is no oxygen and sunlight to aid in the decomposition process. Not sure if you should recycle something? Stop into any of the local resale stores and ask if they can accept an item. We purchased a new cover for our fishing boat and rather than throwing the old one in the trash I asked when I dropped off a donation and sure enough they accepted it!

You can start to make a difference by collecting your clean and dry textiles for recycling. Bring them Oct. 5 to the Fall Electronics Recycling event starting at 9 a.m. at Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES located at 1879 W. Genesee Street in Aurelius. The Rescue Mission will be on hand to accept donations of clean, dry textiles and small household appliances. The event runs until 1 p.m.

When not purging a closet, I use a laundry basket to collect our textiles that are ready to be passed along. Be sure to pair shoes by tying them together as well as pairing socks and other items that can and should be paired.

Through recycling your unwanted textiles you will be helping local nonprofits generate needed income for their mission and programs as well as help save precious landfill space and reduce the impact on the environment.

Judy Wright is the senior agriculture specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County. For more information, visit or call (315) 539-9251 ext. 109.


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