Textile Recycling Facts and Figures

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Textile and clothing recycling is a beneficial activity from both environmental and economic points of view. Through the recycling of used clothes and textiles, we can avoid pollution and energy intensive production of new clothing. Additionally, clothing that cannot be reused can be repurposed into such products as rags or recycled into fabric or other material for reprocessing. In fact, as cities increasingly are diverting other high volume waste streams such as organics, the recycling of old clothes has been called the next frontier for cities looking to reduce solid waste.

Following are some interesting facts about textile and garment recycling:

1. More than 15 million tons of used textile waste is generated each year in the United States, and the amount has doubled over the last 20 years. An average American throws away approximately 80 pounds of used clothing per person. On average, nationally, it costs cities $45 per ton to dispose of old clothing. Synthetic clothing may take hundreds of years to decompose.

2. Only about 0.1% of recycled fiber collected by charities and take back programs is recycled into new textile fiber.

3. Consumers are regarded as the main culprit for throwing away their used clothing as only 15 percent of consumer used clothing is recycled where more than 75 percent of pre-use clothing is recycled by the manufacturers.

4. The average lifetime of a cloth is approximately 3 years.

5. Nearly 100 percent of textiles and clothing are recyclable.

6. The annual environmental impact of a household’s clothing is equivalent to the water needed to fill 1,000 bathtubs and the carbon emissions from driving an average modern car for 6,000 miles

7.  If the average life of clothing was extended by just three months, it would reduce by five to ten percent their carbon and water footprints, as well as waste generation.

The recycling of two million tons of clothing per year equates to taking one million cars from U.S. streets.  

6. More than 70 percent of the world's population uses secondhand clothing.  About 50 percent of collected shoes and clothing are used as second-hand products, 20 percent is used to produce polishing and cleaning cloths for different industrial use and 26 percent is recycled for use such as fiber for insulation products, upholstery, fiberboard, and mattresses and even re-woven into new clothing.

7. The United States Textile recycling industry removes approximately 2.5 billion pounds of post-consumer textiles each year from the waste stream and the industry creates more than 17,000 jobs. Among this 17,000 textile industry employees, 10,000 are semi-skilled employees employed in the primary processing of used textile and the remaining 7,000 employees are employed in the final processing stage. There are more than 500 garments recycling companies in the USA and majority of these companies are owned and operated by small and family businesses, each of which employs 35 to 50 workers. 

8. As per the Council for Textile Recycling, near about half of used clothing is given to charities by mass people and charities distribute and sell these clothing free or in discounted price.

And 61 percent of re-useable and recyclable textiles are exported to other countries.

All these facts indicate that textile recycling industry in the United States has great potential to expand, given that 85 percent of used textiles still go to national landfills. The next steps involve increased initiatives to promote recycling, as well as harmonization of collection efforts.