Image: The Star
When it comes to recycling our waste, we typically think of plastic bottles, coffee cups and other food and beverage packaging. Articles of clothing are not often considered recyclable items and our unused garments are usually thrown in the trash. 60% of clothing ends up in landfill within one year of purchasing. Synthetic fibres like polyester and spandex can take hundreds of years to decompose in landfill and natural fibres like cotton and wool release GHG emissions that contribute to climate change. For every 1 kg of textiles in landfill, there are 4 kg of carbon dioxide emitted.
But, did you know that nearly all of your old clothing can be recycled? Even your torn clothes can go to your local donation bin along with household textiles and clean, dry garments, shoes and accessories. Many stores including Uniqlo and H&M have implemented take back programs as well. Items that are wearable can be resold and those that are not can be recycled. In this context, recycled means breaking shredding them down and then either mechanically or chemically turning them into a new product.
Garment to garment recycling is a fairly new concept, having only 3% of the market share. However this is growing as more apparel brands are investing in the various technologies to turn unwanted and damaged product into new garments. When you look at a label now and see “recycled polyester” that is coming from rPET or recycled polyethylene terephthalate, which is essentially plastic from bottles and other packaging.
We have been mechanically recycling textiles for years, by shredding them and turning them into insulation or underpadding. This is also referred to as “downcycling” because the end product is of a lower value. At FTA, we have spent the past number of years working on textile waste diversion, reuse and recycling projects, including our Textile Recycling Feasibility Study and pilot.
In 2017 Markham, Ontario became the first city in North America to ban clothing waste from curb-side garbage collection, making textile recycling mandatory. The recycling program is saving hundreds of thousands of dollars for the city and in spring 2021 had already diverted 20 million pounds of textiles from the landfill.
Recycling of clothing and textiles is not something that we do. Unlike the other 6 R’s, recycling is something that requires another organization. Our role however is to donate our unwanted products. If they are in really poor condition, simply label the bag “not for resale” when you donate it, and the organization will make sure it gets properly recycled into rags, shoddy or insulation.