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Fashion Clothes are not garbage: a beginner’s guide to textile recycling

Feb. 13, 2019
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Fashion is officially the second most-polluting industry on the planet after oil. Shocked doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt when I found this out. Whether we like to admit it or not—whether you’re a self-proclaimed fashionista, or someone who claims they couldn’t care less about style—clothing is an integral part of our lives. This is the main reason why so many people have pledged to do their part in reducing pollution and become more conscious consumers.

When I decided to move forward in building an ethical closet, I wasn’t sure where to begin. Most articles concerning sustainable fashion will tell you that thrifting clothes is the easiest way to get started, because it helps recycle clothes and therefore decreases the use of nonrenewable resources. There is one step, however, that is crucial to building you sustainable-Barbie-Dream-closet that comes before buying second-hand. As someone who craves a bit of retail therapy, I know how tempting it can be to start shopping immediately, but before any of that happens we must first clean out our closets. An important aspect of a not only sustainable, but ethical closet is downsizing! Cuyana, a brand that is dedicated to a lean lifestyle and closet, has a great motto for this philosophy: think ‘Fewer, Better things’. The truth is, we don’t really need walk-in closets. A few high-quality, ethically sourced and sustainable maid items will last way longer than 25 $5 shirts from Forever 21 will! 

So how does one clean their closet? It’s actually incredibly bad for the environment for clothes to be thrown away. Clothes & fabric are NOT garbage! According to the U.S EPA, over 10 million tons of textile waste were sent to landfills, where they are likely to remain. Many textiles that are thrown away include synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon, which shed microfibers into the ocean. These are just a few of the issues that come with not only making clothing, but also disposing of it. This is where textile recycling comes in. Textile recycling is the process of recovering old clothing and other textiles to be reused. Recycling textiles not only makes a huge impact on your closet, but also on the environment. Some of the benefits of textile recycling include: decreasing the number of textiles in landfills, reducing the use of virgin fibers in manufacturing, as well as reducing pollution by decreasing greenhouse gases and conserving energy and water. 

A small amount of research to find a local recycling initiative is required, but nothing google can’t handle! I was surprised to find out that there were over a dozen initiatives in my area alone, including some action plans from large, more well-known companies. There are lots of ways to textile recycle on your own, such as upcycling your own clothes to make dish cloths and rags or donating clothes to companies like ThredUp, who turns you clothes into cash by donating $5 to a charity for every bag you donate. I also suggest looking for initiatives, like Wearable Collections if you’re NYC based, that will separate your clothing into different clothing grades to see what can be resold and what can be used as low grade fiber products such as insulation (grownyc.com). Now, most places will accept almost anything, but even still it may be difficult to find a place you can donate old underwear, bras and socks to be donated. Although I recognize that the goal is to move away from fast-fashion, I do believe that H&M is making an effort to become more conscious. The company has made an effort to rebrand after they were found to be using unsafe working conditions in their factories. With this rebrand, came the first global textile recycling program. Not only are they heading their own recycling program, but they are also funding new technologies in textile recycling from companies like Worn Again and Treetotextile. Something I actually admire about this project is that they actually give a detailed description and list of their action plan, where the textiles will go and what companies they are partnering with. Though I am not encouraging shopping here, or making use of the 15% off coupon they give you for recycling; H&M does provide people in even the smallest towns with the opportunity to recycle every last bit of their unused clothing. Recycling textiles is crucial to cleaning out a closet, because it will help you recover the old fabric you can’t sell on Depop or donate to a local shelter. We all know there are some items we can’t seem to get rid of, like old underwear, socks and that shirt your grandma gave you when you were a freshman in high school. Just because no one else will buy them, does not mean they’re garbage!

A sustainable closet doesn’t have to mean spending $200 on one pair of linen pants. Although ethical, many choices may not be economically friendly; and sometimes re-selling clothes can be difficult if it is out-of-season or not in-style. This is really where textile recycling comes in handy, not only is it something you can do quickly, and on your own but it is also accessible and free.The idea of sustainable fashion can be quite daunting, but the facts speak for themselves. According to the World Economic Forum, less than 1% of materials used to make clothing is recycled into new clothing. We can’t do much about the clothing we have already purchased. They have already been made, and in many cases the damaged making them caused has already had its effect on the environment.  What we can do, is make do with what we already have; which is the best way to start anything