According to the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART), more than 95 percent of all textiles can be recycled or reused in some way. While nearly half of what already is recycled is reused as apparel, the trade organization says, another 30 percent become wiping rags or polishing cloths used in commercial and industrial settings, with the remainder reprocessed into fibers and remanufactured as furniture stuffing, upholstery, home insulation, automobile sound-proofing, carpet padding, building materials and more.
In addition to unwanted clothing, the group notes, other recyclable textiles including linens, towels, pillows, footwear, accessories, bags and stuffed animals end up in landfills each year—nearly 13 million tons in 2013 alone, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Recycling textiles can have a major impact on reducing greenhouse gases and reducing the world’s carbon footprint, SMART says. According to the EPA, 2 million tons of textiles are currently recycled annually in the U.S. alone. This is the equivalent of removing 1 million cars from America’s highways—far more than the impact of recycling yard trimmings, glass and plastic and nearly equal to the impact of aluminum recycling. The recycled-textile industry also reduces the need for landfill space, decreases the use of natural resources including water and petroleum used in textile manufacturing, and lessens pollution generated in the manufacturing process.
The Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association is an international nonprofit trade association that promotes the interdependence of the for-profit textile recycling industry segments and provides a forum for networking, education and trade. The organization encourages consumer who are tossing out old clothes to find a local textile recycler, collection boxes, local charities and thrift stores or contact their city to see if it has a textile recycling program.