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The Fabrics of Our Lives

Americans are fashion conscious. Particularly, they like to buy new clothes. There is even a term, “retail therapy,” that is often associated with purchasing items of clothing to elevate one’s mood. Cheap clothing at mainstream retailers lets people change wardrobes and styles as frequently as their wallets allow. While these habits can help support the economy and moods, there is a downside to all this conspicuous consumption. Consider the following information about textiles (clothes, towels, bedding, etc.):

  • At least 5% of all landfill waste is comprised of textiles alone;

  • 85% of textiles are not recycled; and

  • The average U.S. citizen throws away 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles annually.

One way to reduce landfill waste is to give more consideration to rental clothing services. Some examples include ThredUp, Rent the Runway, Haverdash, and Armoire. Many of these companies are dedicated to green cleaning methods, recycling, and other environmentally friendly practices. In addition to online options, there are also local choices—most communities have great consignment and second-hand clothing stores where you can shop in person.

Another strategy includes extending the life of items. For example, men’s dress shirts can be refreshed by replacing worn collars and cuffs (thanks to a reader for this handy tip). Quality dress shoes can be given new life by going to a shoe repair shop and replacing the soles for a fraction of new shoe cost.

At some point, however, even the most well-constructed clothes will no longer be wearable or able to be donated. There is not a perfect solution for unusable clothing, but there are viable options to ensure clothes and other related textiles do not have to end up in the landfill. You would be surprised at what can be recycled: old shoes, socks with holes, underwear/bras, ratty sheets and towels, pillows, and even backpacks. Given the times in which we live, you may not be surprised to learn that even fabric masks can be recycled. The point is that most textiles can be recycled, regardless of their condition.

Here is a list of some resources I have either personally used or have learned about to recycle textiles:

  • Goodwill: takes all textiles, including fabric masks, but confirm that your local store does textile recycling; separate non-usable items from donatable ones;

  • H&M Group: accepts clothing fabrics and textiles, towels, blankets, fabric masks. They do not accept shoes or bags. Recycle your unwanted clothing at any H&M store and get a 15% discount. They have a goal of collecting 2 million pounds of clothing this year;

  • The Bra Recyclers has a great social mission and will donate bras to those in need;

  • Retold offers a convenient service for all your textile recycling needs (for a cost);

  • For Days also offers a convenient paid service to recycle old clothes, and gives you credit towards future purchases;

  • Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe Program will recycle any brand of athletic shoes;

  • Soles4Souls donates gently used shoes;

  • Local animal rescue shelters or vet offices can use old towels or even pillows for bedding; and

  • A good general resource is the Council for Textile Recycling.

Renting, buying second-hand, extending the life of clothing, and appropriate recycling—all these options will reduce the impact textiles have on our landfills and ultimately our environment.

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