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Where Old Clothes Die

Spring Cleaning Alert: We Know Where Old Clothes Go to Die—and the Numbers Will Shock You 

 by Catherine Straut | 1 Comments

Wardrobe makeovers, size fluctuation, shopping sprees—whatever the reason, many of us have too many clothes on our hands (cue the old "and yet still nothing to wear!" line). If you're tempted to toss pieces that are too worn to consign, donate to Goodwill, or hawk on eBay…NO! STOP! DON’T! According to a new report from the Council for Textile Recycling (CTR), the average American throws away 70 pounds. of clothing every year, which equals roughly 191 T-shirts…per person. Collectively, that’s approximately 3.8 billion pounds of waste. Whoops.

In addition to the shame-attack you're likely experiencing at this moment, the economic repercussions of this massive trashing are serious. Research from the Environmental Protection Agency indicates that the average charge for landfill dumping is $100 per ton, meaning that taxpayers could potentially save more than $1.1 billion every year by keeping textile waste out of landfills. And the environmental impact? It’s equally dismal: When old clothes are buried in a landfill, they not only take up space but also can also contaminate soil and groundwater and emit horrifying odors. If they're not buried, it’s off to the landfill’s giant incinerator, which releases tons of greenhouse gases, contributing to global warming and climate change. What we're trying to say here, people, is that throwing away clothes is lose-lose.

The good news, as the CTR points out, is that over 90 percent of these discarded clothes and textiles are actually recyclable. “Many people may think that if they don’t want something—particularly if it’s damaged—that it’s not usable, but that’s not the case,” says John Nagiecki, the spokesperson for textile recycling non-profit Planet Aid. “All of the clothing and textiles [we sell] end up getting used 100 percent.”

Here, a rundown of the best and brightest resources that make clothing-recycling more convenient than ever:

1. H&M has a new policy allowing shoppers to donate bags of clothing (which don’t have to be in good condition or carry an H&M label) in exchange for a 15 percent discount on an item of their choice. Puma and The North Face stores also accept worn clothing, and other retailers such as Levi’s, Gap, and Patagonia offer recycling sale events—inquire at local locations to see what’s planned.

2. Planet Aid’s yellow collection bins (popping up soon on a street corner near you) offer peace of mind with a convenience factor. The nonprofit sells collected textiles to vendors in developing countries and uses the profits to support sustainable agriculture programs in sub-Saharan Africa.

3. is a one-stop-shop for recycling resources. Save time with their search engine that lists recycling centers by item type and zip code.

4. Don’t want to get off the couch? You’re lazy. You’re also in luck: More than a dozen local governments in states including Arizona, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, have implemented curbside textile pickup over the past nine months. New York City, for its part, has put clothing collection bins in nearly 250 apartment buildings since 2011, and initiatives such as GrowNYC, a nonprofit with various environmental programs, also offer weekly textile drop-offs at over 26 convenient locations across the city.

Read more: How to Recycle Old Clothes - Best Practices for Textile Recycling - ELLE
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