According to the latest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Advancing Sustainable Materials Management Report, out of 16.22 million tons of discarded textiles in 2014 only 2.62 million tons were recycled. According to Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART) executive director Jackie King, more than 95 percent of all textiles can be recycled or reused in some way, and that’s good for the planet. But textile waste in the U.S. has risen by nearly 10 percent from 2013 and overall recycling growth rates have leveled off in the past five years.
There is good news, though, in those figures, SMART reports. The nearly 3 million tons of textiles that were reused and recycled is the equivalent of taking 1.3 million cars off the road in terms of greenhouse gas benefits—nearly equal 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 cuts down on pollution generated in the manufacturing process.
Part of the challenge in increasing textile recycling is improving ease of use and knowledge about recycling textiles among consumers. Recycling aluminum, paper, plastic and glass are in the vernacular. But the average person in the U.S. throws 81 pounds of textiles into the garbage annually.
The organization’s members use and convert recycled and secondary materials from used clothing, commercial laundries and nonwoven, off-spec material, new mills ends and paper from around the world. Educational resources for consumers, educators and children are available at smartasn.org.