I think most people who visit thrift stores are aware of the benefits of donating clothing directly to people who need it or to shops like ECA that sell clothing to benefit local charities. But there are more ways that clothing and other textiles can be reused or recycled, which help protect the environment. In this post, I’m sharing what I’ve learned about this topic in the hope that it will inspire and motivate you to participate as much as you can in local textile reuse and recycling efforts.
The term “textile” refers to flexible material made of natural or artificial fibers, which includes not only clothing, but other items such as towels, bedding, draperies, rugs, toy stuffed animals, accessories, and so on. ”Reused” textiles are ones that may change hands but continue to be used for their original purpose. “Recycled” textiles have been modified in some way so that they are used for a different purpose.
According to the Council for Textile Recycling (2009), here is the situation:
Here is what happens to textiles that are dropped off for reuse or recycling:
You’ll find additional details in these articles by the Council for Textile Recycling:
Recycling clothes keeps them out of the landfill. That’s a very good thing. Of course, reusing clothes is even better for the environment because it not only keeps them out of the landfill but it helps prevent new clothes from being made, keeps scraps from the manufacturing process out of the landfill, and reduces resources used in manufacturing.
But that’s not all. Recycling or reusing textiles helps reduce the use of pesticides (used in growing cotton), petroleum products (used in manufacturing certain fabrics), and water (used to dye fabrics). It also cuts down on pollutants, greenhouse gases and volatile organic compounds released into the water and air from manufacturing processes.
King County textile recycling programs
It is estimated (by SMART) that up to 95% of the textiles in landfills in the U.S. could have been reused or recycled.
In King County, we are fortunate to have textile recycling programs so that nearly every scrap of fabric can be kept out of the landfill. The Threadcycle Program, run by King County and Seattle Public Utilities, includes partner organizations in King County who accept textiles for reuse or recycyling at easy to find locations.
One important thing to remember is that in King County, you can drop off (to Threadcycle partners or some resale shops that work with them) any/all textiles that are not wet, mildewed, or contaminated with hazardous material, even those that are too damaged to be resold or reused. What a great way to help keep textiles out of the landfill and help protect the environment!
To learn more about King County textile recycling, check out these resources:
At Eastside Community Aid (ECA) Thrift Shop, about 85-90% of the clothing and other textiles we receive go onto our floor for sale, are donated directly to families in need, or are given to other charities. The remainder (except for anything that is wet or mildewed) is handed over to Threadcycle partners we work with. So, if you bring your used textiles to us, we will help ensure that they are reused or handed off to those who process and recycle them.
Thanks for digging into textile reuse and recycling with me. If you have comments or resources to share on this topic, let me know.
Susan is a frequent volunteer at Eastside Community Aid Thrift Shop, where she sorts, prices, and stocks merchandise to her heart's content. Before retirement, she owned and operated a consignment shop for women's plus size clothing in Seattle. Through trial and error and talking with customers, she learned a thing or two. An avid "thrift shopper," Susan loves to buy clothing, especially when she gets good quality and value for her money.
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