Waste reduction: Reusing and recycling textiles

  • Pathway through piles of clothes and laundry Ryan McVay/GETTY IMAGES

By Mimi Kaplan
Published: 8/7/2018 6:52:33 PM

It might surprise you to know that textiles make up a significant portion of the waste stream. “Textiles” refers to any type of fabric, including clothing, shoes, accessories, and linens such as sheets, blankets, pillows, towels and curtains. According to the U.S. EPA, 16.2 million tons of textiles were disposed of in 2014, or about 6.5 percent of total municipal solid waste. In Massachusetts, about 230,000 tons of textiles are disposed of each year. Almost ALL of this material could be reused or recycled instead, preventing it from ending up in landfills, and also reducing the amount of natural resources and pesticides used for growing cotton and producing synthetic materials.

What can be donated/recycled: Textiles cannot go in your recycling bin, but they can be brought to retail and drop-off locations, in good or bad condition, to be either reused or recycled. Almost all kinds of textiles can be reused or recycled — clothing (including outerwear and undergarments), shoes, handbags, bedding, table linens, stuffed animals, pet beds, holiday costumes and more. See the full list at www.smartasn.org. Many retail and drop off locations will take textiles in ANY condition (worn, torn, stained) — anything not reused will be recycled. All items should be clean and dry, however.

Where to donate/recycle textiles: Goodwill, Salvation Army, Savers, and Big Brothers Big Sisters (Hartspring Foundation) take textiles in any condition (they will recycle what can’t be reused), although they should be clean and dry. Salvation Army and Hartspring Foundation pick up donations if you call to schedule. The Northampton and Amherst Survival Centers, The Hospice Shop in Northampton, The Hospice Shop of the Fisher Home, and The Cancer Connection Thrift Shop accept donations of clothing in good condition — call first to make sure they have space. Textiles in any condition can also be left in donation boxes such as Planet Aid or Bay State Textiles. ALL Amherst Regional Public Schools now have textile donation boxes in front of the schools, sponsored by Bay State Textiles, so donation is fast and easy, and it also supports the schools!

What happens to donated and recycled textiles? Generally, 45 percent of donated textiles are reused, 30 percent are cut up to use as industrial rags and polishers, 20 percent are recycled into fiber to use as furniture stuffing, carpet padding, home insulation and other uses, and 5 percent are unusable and discarded. Most stores and organizations sell reused clothing, although a few organizations actually donate it. Some reused clothing is sold locally or regionally, and some clothing is sold in developing countries, particularly in Africa.

The next time you are going through old clothes, don’t throw away those dirty socks, ripped jeans, or stained shirts! Bag them instead and donate/recycle them. Same for old ripped or stained towels, tablecloths, sheets, and yes, even stuffed animals! Give them a second life as a rag or furniture stuffing rather than adding them to the landfill.

Mimi Kaplan is the Waste Reduction Enforcement Coordinator for the town of Amherst.

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