Textile Waste by Apparel Search (we do NOT mean waste created by Apparel Search)

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  In this section you will find resources relevant to Textile Waste.

Textiles

Fleece, flannel, corduroy, cotton, nylon, denim, wool, and linen. What can you do with these fibers when you're finished wearing them, sleeping on them, or draping them over your windows? One way to benefit both your community and the environment is to donate used textiles to charitable organizations. Most recovered household textiles end up at these organizations, who sell or donate the majority of these products. The remainder go to either a textile recovery facility or the landfill.

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.

Markets

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 countries.

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 processing.

Collecting Textiles

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.


Recycling Textiles

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, respectively.

Case Studies

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, Goodwill Industries 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

EPA's 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 and technology.

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.

The above information about textile waste was retrieved from the EPA website July 2007 (http://www.epa.gov/msw/textile.htm).

Learn more about Textile Recycling and Textile Waste.

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