Americans go through about 70 pounds of textiles and clothing per year and throw about 80 percent of that into the landfill.
Americans go through about 70 pounds of textiles and clothing per year and throw about 80 percent of that into the landfill. There really is a much better way to get rid of it than throwing it into the trash. Actually, there is a pretty good business in old clothing, even if it is threadbare and full of holes.
First let me tell you where to take it. There are several places in town that take clothing, but I know that my friends at the Leavenworth Assistance Center, just a half block west or up the street from Denney's Produce on Fourth Street, not only take clothing that can be used in the Thrift Shop, they also bale any materials for sale to places that have other uses.
At the worst case, the materials are shredded and made into new products. For example, they may be shredded and made into sound-deadening materials used in the automotive industry and elsewhere. They may also be shredded and used to make high-quality paper, blankets, wiping cloths, or even plastic fencing.
Some of the better stuff that does not make it into our own Thrift Shop may go to Third World countries for re-use. Our Assistance Center volunteers pick through the clothing and separate out the better cotton materials and bag them for sale to anyone who needs cloth rags. For example, a bicycle or automotive repair shop that needs to regularly wipe equipment and hands clean goes though lots of cotton rags. If you need cloth rags, go to the Center to buy them locally.
Crafters often use strips of clothing and textiles to make a crazy assortment of crafty products like handbags, book covers, and even new clothing. Someday, when I can find someone who will teach me, I plan to make a braided rug, but I intend to use only wool remnants. Clothing strips can also be used in coarse-textured tapestries. I remember when the Center also had a couple of floor looms and made denim rugs. I helped with that for a while.
It is not going to save a great amount of space in the landfill by recycling old clothes, but the Center actually makes a bit of income from selling the bales of clothing that it makes. The bales are kind of cute in that they are rather small compared to a regular square hay bale.
An office mate of mine saved all of her husband's old torn underwear and that is where it all went. It did not have to be in any kind of condition that it could even have a small chance of being re-used. Instead, it was re-cycled and maybe made into very good quality cotton rag paper.
Old bras are a highly sought item in parts of the third world. These, I am sure, do have to be re-usable, but recyclers discovered that there was a large demand for bras in Africa that ladies in the developed world were throwing away.
I highly recommend that you take all of your old underwear, t-shirts, fleece jackets, holy socks, torn blue jeans, old blankets, jackets, bed sheets and pillow cases, stuffed animals, torn quilts, and any other textiles and clothing that you have thought about throwing in the trash and deliver them to the Assistance Center.
Volunteers are standing by to accept your donations and to sort them either for local re-use or for re-sale to old clothing buyers for recycling. I know that it makes me feel better to recycle, especially when it helps someone else.
Matt Nowak lives in Lansing and works as a natural resources manager.