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Textile Recycling: What You Need To Know

Textile recycling stops your clothes from going to waste. It allows us to reuse the same material over and over instead of cultivating new materials which requires more energy. There are so many more benefits, especially for the environment and that’s why companies must start using more recycled fabric.

The good news is that pretty much everyone can recycle their clothes. But first of all, how are fabrics even recycled and why is it so important that we do? Let’s get into it.

The Textile Waste Problem:

Why do we need to recycle fabrics?

At the moment, most clothes go to landfills after people are done with them. This is the case with most products in general as we currently have a linear economy. Textile recycling is just one of the ways to give clothes a second life and make our society more circular. It’s a way to make new clothes by using fewer resources, less energy, and less water. Sounds good right? It is. Unfortunately, not many people are aware of this which is why such little clothing gets recycled. Sadly, most of it ends up in the bin.

Society has a new obsession with clothes. Even worse, social media has created a stigma against repeating outfits which I just find absurd. According to Clothes Aid around a third of unwanted clothes end up in landfills in the UK. That figure needs to be lowered significantly because that’s thousands of tonnes of waste created every year.

It’s also a waste of money. Every time you throw away a piece of clothing, that’s basically money going in the bin.

Even though natural fibers like organic cotton can biodegrade, it takes them hundreds of years to do so in landfills due to the conditions while synthetic fibers like polyester can never really decompose. They simply release harmful toxins into nature as all plastic does.

Recycling textiles will bring us a step closer to a circular economy, will benefit companies, and improve the state of the planet.

Types of textile recycling

Both natural and synthetic fabrics are recyclable. Recycling synthetic, plastic material is always good as it prevents more plastic from being made and prevents it from going into landfills (or in the ocean). However, it’s important to mention that polyester and nylon, for example, can never be fully sustainable as they still release microplastics.

Post- consumer recycling

This includes clothes, towels, and other fabrics that you have in your home. All of which you can send to recycling centers near you.

In addition, some companies like Patagonia and the North Face allow the customer to send their clothes back if they are worn out or don’t want them anymore so they can make them into new clothes.

Pre-consumer recycling

Scrap material created during the manufacturing process can also be recycled. These by-products can be reduced by cutting the fabric in a smarter and more efficient way but can never be fully eliminated. Recycling them (or turning them into a different product like headbands) is the best we can do.

The process of textile recycling

Nearly all kinds of fabrics can be recycled. Whether it’s old or stained (But before recycling your own clothes, wash and dry them to prevent the spread of bacteria). Old clothes and pieces of fabric are taken and turned into new materials to make more clothes.

Step by step process:

  1. Fabrics are sorted bt type and color
  2. They then create yarn by shredding the material or pulling them into fibers
  3. The yarn is processed
  4. The yarn is respun and is ready to be used again

Recycled fabric won’t be the same quality as new fabric but that doesn’t make it any worse. Recycled fabrics can still create amazing outfits.

How you can recycle your clothes

There are various ways to do this. First, check online for textile recycling points near you. Go to Google (or Ecosia) and type in ‘textile recycling point’ near your town. In most cases, you will find somewhere. Here’s a handy website that can tell you where you can recycle your clothes.

In addition to that, there are places online where you can send your clothes for recycling. Take TerraCycle for example. You can buy a box from them which you can fill with your unwanted clothes.

If by any chance you shop from sustainable brands, like Eilleen Fisher or Patagonia, they might offer you an option to send your clothes back and they will recycle your clothes for you.

The point is, you have plenty of options. Even though recycling textiles is not as straight forward as other materials, it’s very much possible. I do hope though that it becomes an easier and more convenient option in the near future.

Other options to textile recycling

If you really can’t find anywhere near you to recycle your clothes, don’t worry because there are so many things you can do with unwanted clothing. The most important thing to remember is to keep them out of the bin. Some of the things you can do include:

The future of textile recycling

All companies will need to start recycling existing resources if we want to become a more sustainable society. There are already too many clothes in landfills. These wasted resources took a lot of energy to produce in the first place and we are just throwing them away like they are nothing.

While textile recycling is a great alternative to them going to landfill, it’s not the perfect solution. Ideally, we need to start producing fewer clothes. That will only happen if consumer demand lowers. Follow the slow fashion movement, stop buying new clothes every month and give away your unwanted clothes to others so someone else can enjoy wearing them. Recycling should be reserved for clothes that are too worn out and for any scrap material, the manufacturing process produces.

Textile recycling is not the full solution but it will be part of the solution.

Conclusion

I wasn’t aware of textile recycling until recently. No one really tells you about it. It’s not as easy as recycling paper of glass. You need to go out of your way and find a collection point or send it by mail somewhere. This is one of the reasons that so many clothes go to waste.

For the fashion industry to become more sustainable and more circular, all that needs to change. Textile recycling must become more widespread for the sake of the planet. We could save so many resources, water, and energy by doing this. It needs to become the norm, not a bonus.

All images from Unsplash

Author

  • I've always cared about the planet but never knew how I could use my skills to create an impact. But that's when I decided to start Terra Movement. To get other creatives involved in the climate movement and inspire more people to help the planet and its people.

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