The amount of textile waste in the US has grown tremendously over the last couple of decades.  The US contributes about 15 million tons of textiles to the landfills each year.  This is particularly depressing given that up to 95% of textiles could be diverted from the landfills with recycling and reuse efforts.  (See smartasn.org for more information on textile waste and recycling).  

 

The fashion industry is a major contributor to this waste, especially fast fashion brands that make cheap, not-built-to-last articles of clothing (e.g., Forever 21, Top Shop – see Newsweek’s 9/9/2016 article about fast fashion).  Typically the clothes from these stores don’t sell as well at second-hand shops, and can end up donated overseas where their poor quality makes them less desirable as well.

 

As someone who is introducing textiles into the world, I am particularly concerned about keeping my textiles (and others) out of the landfill.  Luckily, there are many ways to keep them out of the waste stream and in circulation.  Here’s my top ten ways to keep textiles like clothes and household fabrics out of the landfill:

 

No Trace’s 10 list for keeping textiles out of the landfill:

  1. Shop less, buy quality, and extend the life of your clothes and household textiles.
  2. Buy secondhand whenever possible.
  3. Buy from companies that recycle their products or used recycled materials (e.g., Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, and Insecta).
  4. Purchase 100% natural fiber fabrics (e.g., cotton, wool, hemp), rather than synthetic fabrics, which can be composted at the end of their lifecycle.  Purchase organic when you can as well.  
  5. Repurpose your textiles into something functional like a bag, bin, or a t-shirt quilt once they are worn out or outgrown.
  6. Find a fabric recycler near you:   smartasn.org has resources
  7. Find an artist, local art organization, art school, or even an animal shelter that might be interested in donations.
  8. Re-purpose your worn or stained items into hankerchiefs, papertowels, washclothes, and rags for use around the house.
  9. Donate your gently used things to a second hand store.  Note that these donations, if they don’t sell, can end up in the landfill.  Estimates range from only 20% all the way to 75% of donated clothes are resold.  (See Newsweek’s 9/9/2016 article for details).
  10. Compost as a very last resort if it is 100% natural fibers – shred it first and remove any buttons or zippers.

 

I hope this list helps!  I’m making efforts to reduce my textile waste.  One of my resolutions this year is not to buy any clothes for the rest of 2017.  I’d love to hear from you – what are you going to do to reduce your textile footprint?

 

Thanks for reading!

 

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4 thoughts on “Keeping textiles out of of the landfill

  1. Holly Whiteside says:

    I really appreciate your tips. I have been doing some of these things for a while, but some are new to me and I will definitely take them to heart.

    As a fiber artist I have been trying to learn more about materials and how they are made. You may not know, that many “man made” fibers are ALSO from natural, renewable materials and are ALSOO biodegradable. These include rayon, tencel, modal, lyocel, and viscose. They are made from fibers such as cotton, wood, birch, bamboo, cellulose, etc., and then sometimes chemically treated to turn into a usable fiber. The first generation of Rayon used chemicals that were not good for the environment, but the industry has been improving their techniques, and now it is in its fourth generation, and I think may be a good choice, at least compared to others. Cotton, on the other hand… I have a love/hate relationship with it. Typically cotton uses a lot of pesticides and herbicides to grow, and it is incredibly water-demanding to process. It also frequently uses child labor, forced labor. It is unfortunately, not the best environmental choice (even if organic), because of its use of water.

    I am not an expert, but I want to leave two resources here, and say that the industry is constantly changing and trying to improve. I wish it were a simple matter of buying materials we know to be natural, but life is often not simple these days, is it? Anyway, thanks so much for your article!

    http://plasticisrubbish.com/2015/04/11/regenerated-fibres/

    https://www.textileschool.com/154/eco-friendly-fibers/

    • Liz @ No Trace says:

      Hi Holly!
      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! I really appreciate it. I’ve looked into some of those other fibers and I’ll check out your resources as well and learn even more. The nice things about GOTS organic cotton are that there are also requirements in terms of labor practices to be certified GOTS. Linen is another great natural fiber that uses even less water than organic cotton. And both of these will breakdown in a home compost and not release any micro plastics. Some the man made from nature fibers don’t actually compost, although eventually they biodegrade. Thanks again for your thoughts and resources!
      Liz

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