All About...Textile Recycling!

Photo: Martin Varsavsky/FlickrMany households are pushing closer and closer to a zero waste goal, with the city of San Francisco actually setting a city-wide model for residents. If you can find ways to compost, reuse, recycle, and repurpose every item you no longer need, you can keep your waste out of landfills, which is good for the planet. Not only are you limiting garbage accumulation, you're also lowering demand for new raw material, which encourages companies to use sustainable practices in the production of consumer goods.

Yay zero waste, right?

Except that some things are easier than others. We already know you can compost a truly astounding amount of stuff. City recycling picks up paper, glass, most plastics, and metals. You can find drop-offs for toxic materials (like paint thinner, old batteries, and household chemicals), while many grocery stores collect old plastic bags for recycling.

But what about textiles? You know, those things you're wearing?

Lots of us have old clothes or other textiles (tablecloths, curtains, napkins, rags) that we don't want anymore. Do you know what to do with them? If they're in good shape, you might take them to the used store or to a local community organization that gives out clothes to low-income people; food banks and homeless shelters, for example, often accept donations of textiles.

But what about recycling textiles? It's totally doable, it's just a complex process, and the city of San Francisco just started a textile recycling program, setting a model for the rest of us. The program includes not just fabrics, but old shoes and leather goods. San Francisco generates almost 40 million pounds of textile waste per year, and it goes straight into landfills -- even though much of it is reusable, recyclable, or repurposeable. The program aims to change the way textiles are handled so the city can move closer to its zero waste goal.

The city is partnering with I:CO to set up drop-off stations and install textile recycling bins. Soon, textile waste doesn't have to be waste at all -- and you, yes, you, can stop dumping your old gross textiles a local charity's after-hours bin because you can't bear to throw them out and you're too ashamed to donate unusable textiles during business hours. It's time to donate, recycle, don't throw away, so hire a handyman to help you organize, declutter, and collect all your unwanted textiles for recycling.

And hey, did you know that San Francisco contractors work with the Zero Waste program to keep construction sites low-waste too? Whether building or demolishing, construction materials can be reclaimed and repurposed rather than tossed.

Want to know if textile recycling is available in your area? Contact waste management officials about your options. If it's not, consider asking them if it's something they plan on doing in the future -- and if they aren't, tell them to get on it. Textile recycling can generate revenues for waste management firms, help cities reduce overall waste, and keep tons of material (literally!) out of the waste stream. In addition, recycling textiles reduces the production-end burden, providing an incentive for companies to consider using more ethical textile production methods. Win-win for everyone!

Katie Marks writes for

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