Charities are being transformed into dumps for non-resellable in ever-increasing volumes and yet there is only a 15 or 20 percent chance of the garment being worn by someone in your community.
Choosing what to do with your discarded clothing can be a challenge, even for people committed to sustainability. Many donate their clothing to charitable organizations for resell, but worn out, stained, or torn garments often make their way to the nearest trash bin and this is the fabric ideal for typical recycling. Statistics show nearly half of donated clothing gets worn again, a large portion is recycled in the traditional sense (used as material used for insulation or carpet padding), and a slightly smaller portion is used to manufacture industrial rags. All fabric is recyclable, but the process differs from a bottle or a newspaper because there is no need to grind it into a pulp, as is the case with plastic or glass—which makes it easier.
The True Cost, a fashion documentary focuses on the question of who really pays the price for our clothing, and suggests as consumers, we may be our own worst enemy. In addition to the film, other statistics illustrate the crisis.
- Americans send 10.5 million tons of clothing to landfills every year.
- Americans now buy five times as much clothing as they did in 1980.
- In New York City, clothing and textiles account for more than six percent of all garbage, which translates to 193,000 tons tossed annually.
- Americans recycle or donate only 15 percent of their used clothing, and the rest—about 10.5 million tons a year—goes into landfills, giving textiles one of the poorest recycling rates of any reusable material.
- Between 1999 and 2009, the volume of textile trash rose by 40 percent
Donating clothing dates back to the early 20th century—Goodwill started providing bins for clothing donations as early as the 1940s—but at that time, America was not concerned about overburdened landfills—a result of a glut on the market of cheap, disposable clothing. Charities are being transformed into dumps for non-resellable in ever-increasing volumes and yet there is only a 15 or 20 percent chance of the garment being worn by someone in your community. Charities simply receive far too many donations to sell them all so they call for-profit textile recycling companies to buy up the leftover clothes and recycle them.
Infinite Clothing’s approach to the sustainability issue is three-fold: We make our garments from upcycled plastic bottles; we make sturdier clothing with odor-resistance so the garments need to be washed less, which means they last much longer; and we make higher-quality articles that do not wear out as quickly. Studies have shown consumers often never wear or quickly discard inexpensive, low-quality products, viewing them as disposable because they cost so little.
A number of cities have taken a proactive approach to keep textiles out of their landfills. Queen Creek, Arizona, for example, collects towels, clothing, blankets, sheets, and shoes in special waterproof bags for recycling, and other cities have garbage trucks with separate compartments for clothes. Packmee, a program in Germany and Holland, enables citizens to ship discarded clothing to textile recyclers for free, and in the UK and Canada, schools have become the central place for collecting recyclable fabric castoffs. Closer to home, retailers including Patagonia, H&M, The North Face, and Eileen Fisher have in-store recycling and take-back programs.