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Unraveling Threads: Recycling clothing helps the environment more than donating it does

Americans waste about 10.5 million tons of clothing per year that could easily be recycled instead.


Although there are many things we recycle throughout our lives, such as items made from paper, plastic or cardboard, there aren’t many clothing items that are recycled. I’d place a hefty bet that only a few people in our social circles are even aware that things such as cotton shirts, sweatpants and even denim can and should be recycled or are made recyclable.

According to The Atlantic, Americans only recycle or donate 15 percent of their clothing per year, and the rest — 10.5 million tons worth — ends up in landfills. It’s pretty silly to think people are very casual about where their clothing ultimately ends up when it could very easily be recycled and manufactured into household construction material such as insulation and carpet padding.

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It is better to recycle clothing rather than to donate it because a portion of donations do not end up bought, but rather, trashed, as well. According to Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles, only 45 percent of donated clothing is reused as apparel.

Furthermore, USAgain, a company in the textile recycling industry reports in its “Mind Your Waste” infographic that the waste of every pound of textile produces 7 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, so recycling and reducing the need to throw away clothing will help increase the health and welfare of our environment.

According to SMART’s “The Lifecycle of Rags,” almost 100 percent of textiles are separated into three different categories for recycling: usable clothing, fiber conversion and wiping cloth. From there, they are remade into other articles of clothing and household materials.

It’s simple to recycle your clothing using services provided by companies such as USAgain, and nonprofit trade associations, such as SMART, which are dedicated to the missions of reducing our carbon footprint on the environment by reusing and recycling clothing.

Courtney Mihocik is a junior studying journalism. Did you know that clothing can be recycled? Tweet her @CourtneyMiho or email her at 

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