The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. We’ve all seen the horrifying pictures of mountainous textile landfills. Or…maybe we haven’t? 🤷♀️
One of the best ways to combat textile waste is to recycle apparel. Still, the majority of clothing and other textiles are not recycled. In fact, only 15% of all textiles are recycled annually, while the remaining 85% end up in landfills, incinerators, or polluting our oceans. So why aren’t we recycling more textiles? To be totally honest, textile and apparel recycling is still a new process and comes with many kinks and issues.
The first challenge of recycling apparel starts at the production phase. Many clothing brands and retailers use a wide array of materials ranging from natural like cotton, hemp, and linen, to synthetic materials, such as polyester and nylon. Mixed materials are difficult to recycle because they're made up of many different plastics that must be separated before they can be recycled into new materials. Sometimes garments also contain additives and chemicals, which can make them unable to be broken down by traditional recycling methods. On top of that, many apparel items are made with several different fabrics and components, making it incredibly difficult to separate and sort for proper recycling.
The next big issue with recycling garments comes when it’s time for consumers to dispose of their clothing. The sheer volume of apparel that consumers go through is so large, that this alone makes recycling textiles and soft goods difficult at scale. As consumption goes up, it also means we are adding more and more to already overfilled landfills.
Unfortunately, to add insult to injury, most people don't understand how complex it can be to recycle apparel properly, so they opt out entirely. Instead of taking clothes to a local recycling center or donating to charities, many discard unwanted items in the trash. This contributes heavily to the growing global problem of textile waste and pollution. Not only that, but the fact that so few are doing it, also contributes to an overall lack of demand for textile processing facilities.
To make the most out of apparel before recycling it, we should all make more effort to repair items instead of replacing them. I suggest learning some basic sewing and repair techniques, such as hemming, attaching a button, repairing a hole, or removing pilling via Youtube. And if you don’t have time for hands-on repairs, seek out a dry cleaner or local seamstress.
If all else fails and items can’t be salvaged, consider purchasing replacement items via a consignment shop or secondhand thrift for a greener fashion footprint.
Remember, consignment stores work both ways so if you do a great job taking good care of your apparel, you can consign it when you're ready to move on and make a little extra cash.
PRO TIP: Remember to read your care label instructions. Hand wash, hang dry, use laundry bags, and dry clean if you’re instructed to do so. Your delicate items will thank you.
What about your occasion wear? Consider renting formal dresses, suits, and attire instead of purchasing brand new to wear for a single occasion. This reduces both environmental waste from manufacturing and textile waste from disposal when people no longer need those clothes.
Various organizations offer recycling services to divert textile goods from landfills. For garments that have completed their usable life, these organizations break old clothes into fibers for reuse in other products, such as insulation material or stuffing for furniture cushions. Learn more about this by checking out your local government recycling websites or google "textile recycling near me." Many options should come up, and you can find the best option for you.
By taking the necessary steps to understand and educate ourselves on recycling apparel and textile goods correctly, we can make a more positive impact on our environment. While the process of recycling apparel is far from perfect, we can start by repairing items instead of replacing them, buying secondhand or renting formal dress clothes for special occasions, and taking better care of our clothes from the very start to extend their wear. Additionally, we should all support local initiatives that encourage environmentally friendly practices and encourage local politicians to create more opportunities to recycle all materials properly. Together, we can make a difference in reducing textile waste and pollution for a brighter future.
P.S. If sustainability is your jam below are some links to a few other related blog posts.