Just the Facts
- An estimated 10.6 million tons of textiles were
generated in 2003, or 4 percent of total municipal solid
waste (MSW) generation.
- The textile recycling industry annually prevents 2.5
billion pounds of postconsumer textile product waste from
entering the solid waste stream, according to the Council
for Textile Recycling.
- This 2.5 billion pounds of postconsumer textile waste
represents 10 pounds for every person in the United States.
- Approximately 500 million pounds of textiles collected
are used by the collecting agency, with the balance sold to
textile recyclers, including used clothing dealers and
exporters, wiping rag graders, and fiber recyclers.
Most textile recycling firms are small, family-owned
businesses with fewer than 500 employees. The majority
employ between 35 and 50 workers, many of whom are
semi-skilled or marginally employable workers.
Nearly half of textiles discarded are contributed to
charities, according to an estimate from the Council for Textile
Recycling. Charities either give away clothes or sell them at
discounted prices in secondhand stores. About 61 percent of the
clothes recovered for second-hand use are exported to foreign
Regardless of their final destination, used textiles have a
relatively stable and high price. According to EPA, revenue
generated by sales is enough to cover processing costs.
Unsalable clothing is sold to textile recovery facilities for
A survey by Goodwill Industries, one of the largest textile
collectors, found that half of the people making donations
prefer door-to-door pickup, and more than half would not go more
than 10 minutes out of their way to make a drop off. To help
divert textiles that might otherwise end up in a landfill or
incinerator, some counties collect used textiles with regular
curbside recyclables pickup. Others offer less frequent
quarterly or annual pickups. The Institute for Local
Self-Reliance, a nonprofit organization that promotes waste
reduction and recycling, reports that the most successful
municipal or county programs have partnered with or otherwise
involved local charities and nonprofit organizations.
Textiles typically are not sorted at the point of collection,
but keeping them clean and free from moisture is important. Once
clothes get wet, stained, or mildewed, they cannot be sold for
reuse. To prevent contamination, many charities offer enclosed
drop-off boxes for clothing or other fabrics. Communities with
curbside collection for textiles should educate donors on how to
properly bag clothing.
Textile recovery facilities separate overly worn or stained
clothing into a variety of categories. Some recovered textiles
become wiping and polishing cloths. Cotton can be made into rags
or form a component for new high-quality paper. Knitted or woven
woolens and similar materials are "pulled" into a fibrous state
for reuse by the textile industry in low-grade applications,
such as car insulation or seat stuffing. Other types of fabric
can be reprocessed into fibers for upholstery, insulation, and
even building materials. Buttons and zippers are stripped off
for reuse. Very little is left over at the end of the recycling
process. The remaining natural materials, such as various grades
of cotton, can be composted. If all available means of reuse and
recycling are utilized, the remaining solid waste that needs to
be disposed of can be as low as 5 percent.
More than 500 textile recycling companies handle the stream
of used textiles in the United States. As a whole, the industry
employs approximately 10,000 semi-skilled workers at the primary
processing level and creates an additional 7,000 jobs at the
final processing stage. Primary and secondary processors account
for annual gross sales of $400 million and $300 million,
The Solid Waste Authority of
Palm Beach County, Florida nearly tripled donations to
charities during an innovative curbside textile collection
program. In researching waste streams to divert from landfills,
the county discovered that curbside textile collection
inadvertently competed with charities, who rely on a steady
stream of clothing. Rather than compete, the county and the
charity groups decided to join forces. Together, they
distributed more than 300,000 plastic bags as inserts to local
newspapers. Each bag described the acceptable items and listed
the location of charitable organizations for drop off.
Under a new program called Transitional Work Experience,
agencies in the Washington, DC, area hire formerly homeless
veterans in a wide variety of jobs, including truck drivers,
inventory management, general office work, and production
supervision. The jobs provide opportunities for these veterans
to learn necessary job skills while earning a paycheck. Through
programs like this, Goodwill helps people with potential
employment barriers enter the workforce. In 2000 alone, Goodwill
Industries International served more than 448,000 individuals.
Goodwill funds its job-training programs primarily with revenues
from collection and resale of clothes and other household goods.
More Textiles Information
The Council for
Textile Recycling is working to increase the amount of
textile waste that can be recovered while developing new uses,
products and markets for products derived from preconsumer and
postconsumer textile waste.
The Institute for Local
Self-Reliance is a nonprofit organization that helps
communities reduce solid waste by identifying efficient
recycling and reuse systems. It offers innovative processing and
manufacturing techniques for used and discarded materials.
The Salvation Army
is a nonprofit organization that collects and sells used
clothing and textiles to benefit needy people.
EPA Links and Publications
Jobs Through Recycling (JTR) program offers grants designed
to expand recycling and reuse markets for commodities like
textiles. Most importantly, JTR helps create jobs. In annual
forums, participants meet to exchange information on new markets
Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2003 Facts and
Figures (EPA530-F-05-003), April 2005.
This report describes textiles and other commodities in terms of
the national MSW stream. Find trends in textiles generation and
recovery based on data collected between 1960 and 2001.