Most of us don't fully understand the environmental impact of clothes production. From their fabrication, transportation to market, washing, and disposal; clothes can make quite an impact on our global environment.
While more and more people seem to be recycling their old attire, according to the U.S. EPA Office of Solid Waste, Americans still throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year. Clothing and other textiles represent about four percent of the municipal solid waste stream.
The materials used to make the clothes we buy also matter:
The most commonly used manufactured fiber, is made from petroleum in an energy-intensive process that emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and acid gases into the air. The process also uses a large amount of water for cooling.
The manufacturing of nylon emits nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with a carbon footprint 310 times that of carbon dioxide.
Rayon, derived from wood pulp, often relies on clearing old growth forests to make way for water-hungry eucalyptus trees, from which the fiber is derived.
Cotton, found in most clothing, is the most pesticide-dependent crop in the world. It takes one-third of a pound of pesticides to make one t-shirt.
When manufacturing clothes, dyeing requires a hefty amount of water, and its fixatives often flow into rivers and sewers. Also, all “easy care” and “permanent press” cottons are treated with formaldehyde.
Why Recycle Clothes and Shoes?
As clothes recycling becomes ever popular it’s estimated that each person donates 68 pounds of textiles annually. While many communities have can and glass recycling programs, few communities have textile recycling programs. About 85% of textiles goes to landfills where it occupies about 4% of landfill space and the amount is growing.
Almost all clothing can be used again in one form or another. Discarding these clothes would be a waste, not just of the material itself, but of the water and energy that went into the manufacturing. The water, pesticides energy and labor required to produce cotton clothes is staggering. Most textiles can be repurposed and the benefit of taking the time to recycle those items far outweighs the inconvenience of setting such items aside for recycling. Instead let's get the full benefit of these resources by simply recycling.
When Americans recycle their unwanted clothes and shoes, it provides may benefits: Recycling reduces solid waste, decreases energy consumption and provides economic stimulus and employment here and abroad. Other benefits include:
Pink Bin Recycles more than just clothes.
Items besides clothes can be recycled. For instance, shoes, small toys, belts, stuffed animals, and hats can be recycled as well.
Benefits of Recycling Clothes and Shoes
Almost 100% of household textiles and clothing can be recycled, regardless of quality and condition. Recycled clothing and textiles reduces solid waste, and provides employment in the many states the national organization operates.
Other benefits include:
- reduces solid waste in landfills
- demonstrates sustainability and reduces carbon footprint
- creates economic development around the world
- converts waste products into value products through re-use
- provides employment to semi-skilled or marginally employable U.S. workers
Textile Recycling By The Numbers
As a textile recycler, Pink Bin understands the recycling, recyclability, re-purposing, and source reduction issues have relevance to our industry. We hope through education and the cooperation of government agencies that the general public will recognize the need and importance of recycling secondhand clothing. Through our program, we hope to maximize the recycling of textile wastes and thus minimize the amount of material that goes into the waste stream.
Statistics collected by the Council for Textile Recycling indicate that on a national basis this industry recycles approximately 10 lbs. per capita or 1,250,000 tons of post-consumer textile waste annually. However, these 10 lbs. represent less than 25% of the total post-consumer textiles waste that is generated. According to the EPA's 2009 study of the United States Generation of Solid Waste, textiles account for some 12.8 million tons of the solid waste stream. Per the same study, rubber, leather, and textiles make up 8.3% of municipal solid waste.
We All Have An Impact
So is there a silver lining in all these numbers? You can be assured that 48% of the post-consumer textile waste is being sold to developing countries. It is through our industry's efforts that the worlds’ underprivileged are clothed. Industry members are capable of delivering a pair pants in clean, damage-free condition to the east coast of Africa for a $ .34 a pair and sweaters to Pakistan for $ .12 each. These prices not only include the garment, but the cost of transportation as well.
We are able to do this because of our investment in equipment and facilities to process efficiently and economically the huge volume of material that is handled. Approximately 20% of the material processed becomes wiping and polishing cloths. Finally, 26% of this post-consumer waste is converted into fiber to be used in products similar in nature to those manufactured from pre-consumer textile waste.