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Adventures in Recycling - How Your Donated Clothing Lives Out its Life

Okay, so you’ve been pretty diligent about taking all of your discarded articles of clothing and carefully bagging them up for donation to a recycler. You should feel really good about that, because you’re helping to lower the millions of pounds of textile waste that typically ends up in landfills each and every year. At the same time, you may be more than a little curious about exactly what happens to all of that clothing once it leaves your sight. Well, if you’ve ever wondered about what kind of an adventure those clothes ultimately end up having as they go through the recycling process, this article should help to clear up those questions.


The first thing that happens to all those clothes is that they are inspected to determine just how usable each article might be. Often times, clothes are discarded by their owners because they no longer fit, or styles have changed. Those clothes found to be in good condition are often resold by charities, either in discount stores or in low-income markets overseas. Yes, there’s a very good chance that your retired t-shirt is clothing an impoverished person somewhere around the world! That fact alone should make you even more aware of just how important it is to keep discarded clothing separate from food and other things that might contaminate the fibers or make the shirt unusable.

But what do they do with items that can no longer be used in their present form? Those items are recycled – or more accurately, down-cycled – by dismantling them and turning them into other textile products. By one estimate, nearly a third of these clothing items end up being made into rags for cleaning. The fibers of another sizeable percentage of those clothes will end up as carpeting, seat stuffing, or even insulation.


And then there is the portion that can be used for making recycled clothing items. The fibers of these clothes are often reused to make clothes using pretty much the same textile processes the original fibers went through. After all, there is still a need for cutting and sewing and all of the other garment-making steps every piece of clothing has to go through before it can end up on your body.


Finally, all of these new products end up back on the market, where they are purchased by consumers just like you. That completes what is, for all practical purposes, a closed loop recycling system. And while that loop is not completely effective in eliminating any waste of materials, the actual amount of waste ends up being extremely small. How small, you ask? 95% of this recycled clothing ends up staying out of the landfill – a remarkable success by any measure!


At the Earth Company, we understand how important all of this to helping all of us maintain the sustainable lives our planet needs if it and we are to be as healthy and secure as we can be. Together, we can all make the kind of difference that truly changes the world for the better.