Don’t Trash Your Old Clothes

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By Gina Snyder

The public schools in my town now host smart new boxes that collect unwanted clothing and textiles for recycling. Not only do these boxes look really sharp, they actually are “SMART” – they are from Baystate Textiles, a member of the “Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association.”

I’ve seen clothing collection boxes before, but this new program will accept almost any fabric (even things like handbags, shoes, and stuffed animals). Stained, torn or ragged, as long as a textile is clean and dry, they’ll take it.

With 25.5 billion pounds of useable textiles thrown away each year (70 pounds per American), there is a lot of waste that can be prevented. Contrary to popular belief, donations in any condition are welcomed by both for-profit and non-profit textile collectors.

You can even donate items with stains, rips, missing buttons or broken zippers because textiles are a valuable commodity. Items that don’t sell in a thrift store are baled and sold to brokers or graders who sell to other markets. This income helps thrift stores support their mission.

The boxes at my town’s schools provide work for local companies, which turn about 30% of the donated textiles into industrial wiping cloths. A Massachusetts company cuts used clothing and other textiles into rags and sells them to commercial garages and public works operations. The remaining 20 percent is sent to fiber converters -another local textile recycler – where textiles are broken down into their basic fiber components to be re-manufactured into insulation for autos and homes, carpet padding, or sound-proofing materials.

Reusing textiles uses less energy and less water than any competitive products made from newly produced paper or textiles, according to SMART. You may even have used wipes made from recycled fabric in your home or for your car (for example, soft lint-free wipes or super absorbent rags). By recycling my old or unwanted fabrics, I can help my town save trash disposal costs, help generate revenue for the schools and have a positive impact on the environment.

When cleaning out your closets, donate your textiles rather than throwing them away!

More EPA info on textile waste and recylcling

More EPA information on Trash and Recycling

About the author:  Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental Stewardship, Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and serves on her town’s climate committee.


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