How to recycle textile products

Updated July 19, 2017

Textile products account for almost 5 per cent of the total US waste stream - that is, the amount of trash going into our landfills and incinerators. Recycling textiles such as old clothes not only cuts down on waste and pollution, but provides cheap apparel to low-income families all over the world. Also, fibres from shredded recycled textiles can be used to make new products.

Donate your old clothes to charity. Do this by arranging for a pickup from your home, by dropping off your clothes at a local charity, or by taking them to a clothing drop box that belongs to a charity or for-profit organisation. They can usually be found in grocery-store or shopping-centre car parks.

Call your local department of sanitation to see whether it offers kerbside textile recycling. Unfortunately, most cities and counties don't yet offer this service, but some areas, such as Somerset County, New Jersey, allow textiles to be recycled in kerbside bins. Other areas are working on creating textile recycling programmes.

If your area doesn't recycle textiles at kerbside, find out which city or county officials you need to contact to encourage the development of such a programme.

Contact local quilters' guilds if you want to recycle fabric scraps: they are always in search of small amounts of fabric to make quilt pieces.

Look online or in the Yellow Pages for specialised textile recyclers: for example, if you have an old carpet that you'd otherwise throw away, search for a carpet recycling company. A comprehensive list can be found at the Carpet America Recovery Effort web site.

Recycle textiles within your own home. Old clothes can be repurposed as rags for cleaning, polishing and wiping. Once you've wrung every last bit of use out of that rag, though, don't recycle it: it may now be impregnated with chemicals from cleaning products. If it's then recycled, it might contaminate the other textiles in its recycling batch.

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About the Author

Kate Wharmby Seldman is a writer, ghostwriter and editor. She writes about subjects including electronic music, jewelry making, baby and child care, and ecologically friendly building construction. Originally from London, England, she now lives in Los Angeles, Calif., with her husband and son.