Textile Recycling: Trials, Tribulations, and Bright Horizons

“The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries.”

Everyone loves to shop. 

If you think you don’t, you haven’t found your niche yet. Whether it’s meandering Forever XXI, eyeing a Pandora bracelet, or checking real estate online, America is a consumption culture. 

It’s all fine when it’s 1960 and you wear every dress you own until it frays, and then you sew it up again when your daughter is old enough to fit into it.

But, 70 years later, the market has changed. 

Gone are the days of mending clothing. Aldous Huxley probably looks pretty smug right about now. State catchphrases in “A Brave New World” are becoming unironically felt in the modern day. Ending is better than mending” and “the more stitches the less riches” are new American truths. We can buy lots of new clothing because we can cheaply make new clothing, so why mend when you can end?

Of course, the term ending has shifted slightly. We, as a society, know that throwing away clothing isn’t the best use of resources. So, to annul a guilty conscience, healthy, hippie consumers give to the poor! What better use for a jacket once bought and never worn than for a nice, homeless veteran to receive it?

We’ve done a report on how to best tackle the issue.

But, of course, this isn’t what happens.

We put massive resources into making our clothing, and it sits in our closets for years on end, or, worse, ends up in the landfill. According to the US EPA 5% of everything that ends up in the landfill is textile-based. 

All of that oil, water and landfill space, wasted.

But, there’s a better way. 

And it’s called Simple Recycling. 

Simple Recycling is a textile recycling company out of Ohio that picks up your old, unwanted clothing from your home, for free.

They provide you with a pink bag where you can load all of your unwanted clothing, and come on the same day as curbside recycling pick up. 

Simple Recycling partners with cities, who don’t want textiles in landfill or recycling, and can use their resources to communicate with their customer base, and find the curbside recycling schedule. They’re focusing on communities with higher incomes, because those are the communities with the most textile waste. 

And it’s growing fast. Starting in 2014, Simple Recycling has already moved 10 million pounds of textiles. They first sell to thrift stores, then to overseas markets, and then to rag-making operations. They’re in 200 cities and 11 markets. There’s very little competition.

If textile recycling can become more popular, we can keep 5% more out of landfills, and maybe people who are now donating to thrift stores will give them a second thought for purchasing, as well.

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Jacq Streur

Jacq Streur was an intern for the Waste to Wealth Initiative. She received her BS from Dominican University of Northern California, while a staff member at Zero Waste Marin. She pairs her research background with her hands on knowledge to write compelling reports on recycling, economic decentralization, and the future of urban zero waste.