Did you know that we send over 39 million pounds of textiles such as clothing, sheets, and towels to the landfill each year? Coupled with the enormous environmental impact textile production has on the environment, and we’ve got a problem.
Only about 15% of used clothes and other textiles in the United States get reused or recycled. The other 85% head straight to the landfill or incinerator. This wastes scarce resources, contributes to climate change and pollutes waterways.
Although textile recycling is available, the best way to reduce these environmental impacts is by reducing the amount of textiles we purchase, use, and dispose.
Environmental Impacts of Clothing
On average, each person in the United States discards roughly 103 pounds of textiles annually. According to CalRecycle, more than 700 gallons of water are used to produce one cotton t-shirt or one pair of jeans. The climate impact of manufacturing one t-shirt is equivalent to driving a car for about 10 miles. The garment industry globally produces 150 billion pieces per year, which is enough for every person on the planet to have 20 new pieces of clothing per year.
- California Produce Stewardship Council website (choose Textiles)
- Your Clothes Can Have An Afterlife (NIST Report)
How to Manage Textile Waste Responsibly
Most of the 39 million pounds of textiles we send to the waste stream each year can be reused or recycled into insulation material, flooring, packaging, or cushioning in stuffed toys, insoles, and bags.
At the larger charity thrifts, like Goodwill and Salvation Army, scraps and seriously damaged items are cut into industrial rags or shredded into pulp. The shredded fabric, for the most part, will become mattress stuffing, insulation, or some other type of padding.