The Huge Impacts of Donating Used Clothing and Textiles

Charitable donation

As many as 12 million tons of textile and clothing waste is thrown out every year in the United States. The average American will throw away 70 pounds of clothing each year. Where does all this clothing go? Straight to our landfills. According to EPA estimates, textiles and clothing account for 5% of landfill space. Only 15% of post-consumer textile waste is actually recycled. The other 85% goes to the landfills.

This textile waste is generated on top of the other solid waste we’re already throwing away. On average, individuals will generate around 4.5 pounds of trash each day. This translates to 1.5 tons of solid waste being dumped into our landfills per person per year. As of 2014, there were 318.9 million people in the United States. If each of us generates 1.5 tons of solid waste each year, we’re adding 478.35 million tons of trash to our landfills on an annual basis.

The good news is that according to EPA estimates, 75% of that solid waste is recyclable. The less good news: we’re currently only recycling about 30% of our solid waste. Solid waste is, of course, made up of more than clothing and textiles. For instance, recycling just one-tenth of our newspapers could save 25 million trees each year. Composting the 21.5 million tons of food waste generated each year would have the same effect on reducing greenhouse gas emissions as removing 2 million cars from the road.

The even better news is that our solid wastefulness is one thing that’s easy to correct. From recycling newspapers to used clothing, making an impact can be as simple as putting your old newspaper in the green bin instead of the black one. Likewise, rather than throwing out your old clothes when you no longer want them, why not make a clothing donation to charity?

Since the 1940s, billions of pounds of clothing, textiles, and shoes have been recycled and re-purposed by U.S. charities and the post-consumer textile recycling industry. There are many charities across the nation which take clothes donations. To make it even easier on donors, there are even organizations that pick up donations. If you can’t make it to your local drop off spot, schedule a donation pick up to have your charity of choice collect your used clothes and textiles from your doorstep.

It’s been estimated that between 10% and 12% will be sold by charities at their secondhand thrift stores. Around 80% of charitable clothing donations go towards helping the needy or providing much-needed funding for the charity. These donations will be sold by the charity to recyclers who will then separate these used goods into three categories: reused and re-purposed, recycled and converted, or recycled into fiber.

The majority of the used textiles will be reused and re-purposed, mostly by being exported as secondhand clothing. Around 30% will be recycled and converted. For example, the wiping rags you gave to one of the organizations that pick up donations will likely receive a second life as industrial and residential absorbents. The last 20% of clothing and textiles are recycled into fiber. This fiber will then be used to make insulation for our homes, padding for carpets, or become raw material to be used by the automobile industry. Only around 5% of secondhand clothing donated to charities will end up as waste.

As an added benefit to making contributions to organizations that pick up donations, you’ll be supporting jobs for 100,000 workers in the U.S. who are employed by the thrift industry, helping them to bring around $1 billion in wages home to their families. In addition, the textile recycling industry employs around 17,000 people throughout the United States.

The Council for Textile Recycling has set a goal of zero textile waste going to landfills by 2037. We have a long way to go to achieve this goal. In 2011, 90% of clothing and textiles which were thrown out could have been recycled or reused. All it takes to make an impact on our landfills, greenhouse gas emissions, and the lives of children and families in need is to schedule a donation pickup with one of the many organizations that pick up donations.

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