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Why Should You Bother to Recycle Clothing?

When many people think about recycling, their minds immediately run to items like cans, bottles, and paper. Despite the great strides that we’ve all made in increasing our recycling efforts over the course of the last several decades, there are still millions of people who have yet to discover just how many different types of objects and materials can be recycled. For example, it’s common for us to encounter people who literally have no idea that they can recycle clothing.


Of course, they all know that used clothing can be reused! They’re pretty much all familiar with the concept of “hand-me-down” clothes within a family – where young children receive the clothes that their older siblings wore the year before. And most people are aware of operations such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army that accept used clothing, often re-selling them to low-income persons and using the proceeds for other charitable endeavors.


Where there is a lack of information, however, is in the area of actual recycling of textile products. That perhaps helps to explain why millions of tons of fleece, cotton, denim, linen, wool, and other fibers end up in landfills each year. The fact is, however, that much of this wasted material can actually be recycled and the fibers can live on in new forms – if you recycle them properly. Of course, even knowing that simple truth doesn’t answer every question you might have. For example, why bother to recycle clothing at all? Here’s why:

  • Wasted fibers result in new production requirements to meet demand. That means more factories working to produce those new fibers – and those factories can create new pollution.

  • Overflowing landfills remain a concern in many parts of the world. Every step forward in our recycling effort is one less piece of nature that has to be despoiled with our discarded trash.

  • Reusing fibers such as cotton can be a critical step toward protecting our environment. Cotton growth requires pesticides, and those pesticides can end up in our streams and rivers. That harms the land, pollutes out water, and negatively impact wildlife species like bees and birds.

  • Many of the dyes used during manufacturing contain harmful toxins.

  • Manufacturing requires energy. Saving our planet requires more than just reusing materials; it also requires smart conservation. When we recycle, we can reduce energy usage and help to safeguard our planet’s resources for future generations.

  • It’s fun and it helps others. Face it: you know how great that feeling is when you do something helpful for others. Well, a good portion of your usable clothing items ends up in the hands of those less fortunate than yourselves – some of whom live in many of the most impoverished areas on the planet.

The fact is that recycling clothing and other textile products makes sense for a variety of reasons! And here at the Earth Company, we’re extremely excited to have you join us in our efforts to build a more sustainable life today to better preserve all of our tomorrows.

Infrastructure Holding Back Recycling Efforts

After decades of focusing on recycling, many Americans take pride in the progress that they’ve made. They’ve managed to transform a society that once routinely disposed of almost every used item by throwing it into landfills that were as unhealthy for the environment as they were unattractive to the eye. Somehow, without the benefit of a gargantuan federally-led equivalent to the Manhattan Project, Americans managed to turn those habits around and ended up making dramatic improvements in their recycling efforts.


And yet, despite all the progress, the numbers remain stubbornly disappointing. Take, for example, one of the first main recycling efforts in the nation: can and bottle recycling. Many states implemented deposit laws to encourage recycling and eliminate waste, requiring consumers to pay a per-bottle or can deposit fee that is only recovered when those cans are redeemed for recycling. It has been decades since those laws began to levy those fees, and yet sixty percent of those containers still never get recycled.


Clothing and other fabric products have fared no better. Many millions of pounds of otherwise recyclable fabric get tossed into garbage bins and landfills every single year. Sadly, most of that fabric ends up being contaminated by other refuse, leaving it unrecoverable by recyclers, and thus unusable. Many are clothes that could have been worn by the poor both at home and abroad, or dismantled and processed for reuse as rags, drapes, or even other clothing items.


Recycling experts who have studied the slow pace of current growth in recycling efforts have pointed to one weakness in the system: the lack of adequate infrastructure to make recycling as easy as possible for the average American. For while there are garbage bins readily available on street corners and other locations in most towns and cities, recycling containers are much less prevalent.


Part of that has to do with the expense associated with establishing infrastructure at the city level. Most municipalities lack the resources to adequately fund those types of projects on their own, and there are few localities containing companies that can do it for them. So consumers are left without access to the type of infrastructure they need to truly make the contribution needed to further advance recycling progress.


The solution to that infrastructure problem may be at hand, though. Nearly a dozen companies, including the retail giant Wal-Mart, have banded together in a cooperative effort known as the Closed Loop Fund. The Fund is designed to provide investments in various municipal locations that can help those cities develop the infrastructure that government and the citizens need to increase recycling efforts. Once those investments are repaid, the cities can then continue to benefit from the revenue that infrastructure can provide.


Even the proponents of the Closed Loop Fund acknowledge that theirs is not the only way to address the infrastructure problem. However, it is an important idea whose time has definitely come, and as such it can provide an invaluable service to cash-strapped cities that need access to capital so that they can enhance their recycling efforts.

How Closed Loop Recycling Can Save Us All

We’ve come a long way in our recycling efforts in just a few short decades. Today, millions of people regularly focus on separating their trash items so that we can limit the amount of garbage that gets added to our landfills each year.Despite all those advances, however, much work remains to be done if we are to achieve true sustainability. Ultimately, we won’t even begin to approach that goal until we manage to achieve a truly closed loop with our recycling strategies.



For those unfamiliar with the closed loop concept, it’s simple. Closed loop recycling involves taking all of that recycled material and turning it into usable goods. Those goods then have to be purchased by consumers who are as dedicated to the end of the recycling process as they are to its beginnings. The choice to recycle is the start of the process; the decision to purchase recycled or repurposed items closes the recycling loop. And there are a host of reasons why this can benefit our planet, and ultimately us as well:

  • The use of recycled material is better for the environment. Take plastic, for example. Recycled bottles need not go through the same factory process used to create the plastic, and that helps to reduce pollution.

  • We can also conserve resources when we recycle. Recycled paper and wood products reduce the need for deforestation, recycled plastic reduces the land demands associated with expanded drilling for oil, and recycled cloth can reduce the need for additional toxic dyes and other chemicals.

  • Recycling can reduce energy consumption as well. That can help to control demand for energy, which in turn not only reduces the amount of energy we use, but helps to maintain lower prices as well.

  • Every recycled product is one less bit of garbage in our overflowing landfills.

So, how can you make a difference and live a closed loop life? Well, start by committing to serious recycling. Learn what materials can be recycled, and how they should be separated. That can help to avoid the contamination that might otherwise render a perfectly recyclable item into something fit only for the landfill.


Then do a little research into the products you already purchase. Wherever possible, try to find out whether there are recyclable alternatives to your current favorites, so that you reduce or eliminate your own contribution to the landfills of the world. And remember, just because something can be recycled doesn’t mean that your community has the infrastructure to handle that reclamation process. Look into that as well.


Finally, commit to teaching your family members about closed loop living as well. You can certainly make a small impact on your own but the only way to multiple those results is to rally your loved ones to the cause as well. At the Earth Company, we’re trying to do our small part by providing customers with access to high-quality recycled fabric products. With your help, we believe that we can come closer than ever to closing the recycling loop and achieving the sustainable lifestyle we all desire.