According to the 2014 Disposal-Facility-Based Characterization of Solid Waste report, more than 1.24 million tons of textiles were disposed in California landfills in 2014. Textiles are the sixth most prevalent material type in the overall disposed waste stream and comprise 4 percent of landfilled waste.
Every year, Californians spend more than $70 million to dispose of used textiles in landfills. Ninety-five percent of this material is reusable or recyclable. California has set an ambitious goal of 75 percent recycling, composting, or source reduction of solid waste by 2020 by taking a statewide approach to decreasing California’s reliance on landfills. Managing our textile waste responsibly is essential to this effort.
CalRecycle defines "textiles" to mean items made of thread, yarn, fabric, or cloth. Examples include clothes, fabric trimmings, draperies, and all natural and synthetic cloth fibers. This waste type does not include cloth-covered furniture, mattresses, leather shoes, leather bags, or leather belts.
Environmental Impact of Textile Manufacturing
Reducing the amount of textiles we landfill has positive environmental impacts. Manufacturers use extensive resources to produce textiles, including oil to produce synthetic fibers, fertilizers to grow cotton, and chemicals to produce, dye, and finish fibers and textiles. Although textile recycling is available, the best way to reduce these environmental impacts is by reducing the amount of textiles we purchase, use, and dispose.
For example, more than 700 gallons of water are used to produce one cotton t-shirt or one pair of jeans. The climate impact of manufacturing one t-shirt is approximately 4.3 kg C02, which is equivalent to driving a car for about ten miles. Polyester clothing has an even bigger impact on the environment, and the manufacturing process to produce the average polyester t-shirt releases 5.5 kg C02 emissions, which is equivalent to driving a car for about 13 miles.
The garment industry is a big business and globally produces 150 billion pieces per year, which is enough for every person on the planet to have 20 new pieces of clothing per year. The United State is the largest importer of new clothing with $220 billion in sales in 2016, or about $2,000 per person.
Why Are People Throwing Clothing into the Garbage?
While the cost of most consumer goods have risen, clothing costs have decreased over time, making it easier for consumers to purchase more items. Unfortunately, less expensive clothing is often made of lower quality materials, resulting in a higher rate of disposed clothing.
How to Manage Textile Waste Responsibly
Here’s what you can do to make a difference in reducing the environmental impacts of textile manufacturing.
- Donate your clothing, linens, and textiles. Visit Earth 911 to find local organizations that accept textile donations.
- Take your unwanted clothing shopping with you. Some retailers host donation bins and offer shopping discounts when you deposit your clothes. Examples include Columbia, H&M, Levi Strauss & Co. and The North Face. When you’re out shopping ask the retailers you patronize if they accept used clothing. Some retailers reward customers with a discount coupon.
- Sell your unwanted clothing online. Consider selling your items using an online business like ThredUp, PoshMark, eBay, or CraigsList.
Change Your Purchasing Habits
- Purchase second-hand items at local thrift stores and via online stores like eBay, Etsy, PoshMark, and Goodwill.
- Purchase high quality refurbished clothing. Some online businesses sell items that have never been worn but needed cleaning or minor repair before selling. Patagonia sells refurbished items through its Worn Wear “Better than New” product line. The Renewal Workshop is an online business specializing in sustainable refurbished fashion.
- Purchase higher quality clothing that you will wear. Purchase items designed to survive the rigors of the washing machine and many wears. #30wears is a movement promoting the idea that you should not purchase any clothing that you would not wear at least 30 times.
- Purchase items with the least environmental impact. Some retailers list the environmental impact along with the pricing. Reformation is one example.
- Purchase clothing from retailers who stand behind their clothing. Many clothing retailers offer lifetime, or limited lifetime, warranties including Columbia, Duluth Trading Company, L.L.Bean, Eddie Bauer, Patagonia, and Lands’ End. BuyMeOnce maintains a list of items that offer lifetime warranties including clothing.
- Skip purchasing and rent clothing. Subscription clothing rental companies are available online. Check out Rent the Runway, GwynnieBee, LeTote, Parcel 22, and Infinite Style by Ann Taylor.
- Purchase fewer, higher-quality pieces of clothing. Invest in a higher-quality wardrobe and you will find you don’t need to purchase new clothes as frequently. Avoid fast fashion clothing that uses lower quality materials and manufacturing methods to produce cheap clothing you dispose after one season.
- Purchase coordinated items. Consider your entire wardrobe when purchasing new items and choose garments that coordinate with the rest of your closet so you have more fashion options with fewer pieces.
- Make your clothes last longer by taking better care. Wash your clothing in cold water to preserve fabric fibers and wear items several times before laundering. Repair seams and replace buttons instead of disposing of a garment.
Innovative Approaches for Reuse/Recycling
- CalRecycle Sustainability Spotlight: Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s Theo Lacy Facility
- I:CO (short for I:Collect) is a respected global solutions provider and innovator for collection, reuse and recycling of used clothing and shoes.
- Patagonia Common Threads Garment Recycling
- The North Face Clothes the Loop program
- Unzipped (Levi Strauss blog): Posts tagged with "Circular Economy" and "Clothing Recycling"
- Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2014 Fact Sheet (USEPA, November 2016)
- A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future, (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, January 2017).