In the United States, only 15% of used clothes and other textiles get reused or recycled (globally, it is 12%). The remaining 85% ends up in the landfill or incinerator. What a waste! Textile recycling is a key part of a sustainable, circular economy, and we should all know more about it. Let’s find out what it is, and look at some textile recycling companies, so you know where to send your clothes next time instead of throwing them away.
- How Do You Get Rid of Clothes that Can't be Donated?
- What is Textile Recycling?
- Textile Recycling Companies to Check Out
- Get into the Textile Recycling Habit
How Do You Get Rid of Clothes that Can’t be Donated?
There’s a lot of clothing to be bought, and meanwhile the space in our wardrobe remains the same. In order to make space for new clothes (or thrifted clothes), we need to get rid of old clothes that we no longer need, or that no longer fit us. Or perhaps they’re torn or damaged in some way.
Basically, you can do one of four things with your old clothes:
1 / Sell your old clothes
We cover this in our posts on selling your clothes online. Make space, and make some money!
2 / Donate your old clothes
3 / Repurpose your old clothes
If you’re crafty, you can easily rip old clothes and turn them into something useful. They can be turned into rags for cleaning, new clothes for your kids’ dolls, toys for your dogs, etc.
4 / Recycle your old clothes
You can recycle clothes? Yes! Hand over your old clothes to a textile recycling company, and they will turn it into new materials that can be used for new outfits. Let’s find out how.
What is Textile Recycling?
Textile recycling is a very important part of the circular fashion economy, whereby new materials can be created from old materials, instead of exhausting virgin materials.
Textile recycling is what it sounds like: recycling old textiles into new material that can be used to create new garments. This is done by recovering yarn from the old fabrics, processing them, and turning them into fresh yarn that can be woven into new fabrics.
How do you Recycle Textiles?
The garments and textiles are first sorted into two piles: clothes with synthetic fibers and those with natural fibers.
Garments made of synthetic or polyester-based textiles are first shredded, then granulated, and then processed into polyester chips. These chips are then melted and used to create new fibers, which can be used to make polyester fabric.
Garments made of natural textiles are sorted by color and material. The color-sorted clothes do not require any dyeing – thus saving energy and water use.
Next, the natural textiles are shredded or pulled into fibers. During this process, new fibers may be added to reinforce the old fibers. The resulting yarn is cleaned, and spun into the final version, ready for weaving into new garments.
The process is generally as described above, but may vary a bit depending on the intended end-use of the yarn/fabric.
What are the Sources for Textile Recycling?
What sort of textiles can be recycled? Textile recycling is done on post-consumer textiles (which include fashion garments, vehicle upholstery, etc.) as well as on pre-consumer textiles (which includes by-product scrap from yarn and fabric manufacturing, and other industries).
The recycled fabrics are used to make new clothing, or turned into industrial rags and fiber filling for a variety of uses.
Why is Textile Recycling Important?
Recycling of textiles has many advantages. First, it reduces the use of virgin fibers, and therefore also reduces deforestation. Second, it reduces the consumption of energy and water, and therefore also reduces pollution. Third, recycling prevents textiles from becoming waste in the landfill, and thus reduces landfill space requirements.
This “textile-to-textile” recycling (using old textiles to make new textiles) is thus necessary to achieve circularity in the fashion industry. According to the Global Fashion Agenda’s Scaling Circularity report, “current technologies have the potential to deliver 75 percent textile-to-textile recycling into the fashion system.”
How Big is the Textile Recycling Industry?
The global textile recycling industry is estimated to be worth USD 4.54 billion (2021). It’s expected to grow at 2.7% from 2022 to 2030. This isn’t even a new industry: Italy is a well-known center for recycling textile: old rugs and clothes are collected from all over the world and sent to Italy to be converted into recycled yarn and fabric. According to the Italian Textile and Recycling Association, 25 tons of clothing is recycled every day at the textile recycling hub of Prato, Italy.
Textile Recycling Companies to Check Out
Textile recycling is increasingly being supported by many corporate programs, as well as non-profits. Numerous businesses are cropping up to support the waste-reduction and environmental aims of the fashion industry. Some of the prominent, innovative companies are listed below.
1 // Aquafil
Aquafil created Econyl, which is made from recycled nylon waste recovered from industrial plastic, waste fabric, and fishing nets. Econyl is regenerated nylon that is infinitely recyclable, and now used by numerous influential fashion brands around the world.
2 // Blue Jeans Go Green
The Blue Jeans Go Green program specializes in recycling denim, to “give old denim new purpose.” They recycle denim into insulating material for building efforts, pet bed inserts, and thermal insulation used in sustainable food and pharmaceutical packaging. You can drop your denim items off at a local retailer or event.
3 // Circ
This biofuel startup’s team has created technology that recycles polyester or poly-cotton blends into the raw materials of virgin-grade polyester.
4 // Circulose
Circulose® is a new material made by recycling cotton from worn-out clothes and production waste through a mechanical recycling process.
5 // Evrnu
Evrnu is a textile innovations company using technology to create engineered fibers from discarded clothing. The resulting NuCycle® Fiber, which was recognized by TIME magazine as one of the top inventions of 2022, has extraordinary performance and environmental advantages.
6 // FabScrap
FabScrap is a pick-up and sorting service for pre-consumer textile waste in New York. It facilitates reuse, upcycling, and recycling.
7 // Infinited Fibre
This company uses their patented technology to turn old, used clothes into Infinna™, a “reborn” circular textile fiber that looks and feels like cotton.
Hong Kong company Novotex Textiles has a patented (and automated!) technology to process textile waste into recycled fibers. Their award-winning The Billie System is a mechanical textile recycling system that uses no water throughout the recycling process.
9 // Pure Waste
Pure Waste is a Finnish company that manufactures and sells yarns, fabrics and garments made from 100% recycled textile materials.
10 // Recover
Recover is a materials science company that recycles post-industrial and post-consumer textile waste into high-quality cotton fiber and fiber blends.
11 // Renewcell
Swedish company Renewcell’s recycling technology dissolves used cotton and other cellulose fibers into a new, biodegradable raw material pulp. Their customers make biodegradable virgin-quality viscose or lyocell textile fibers from this pulp.
12 // Rewoven
South African company Rewoven uses plastic and pre-consumer textile waste to create 100% recycled fabric.
13 // SaXcell
Using technology developed by a team of researchers from Saxion University of Applied Science in the Netherlands, SaXcell is a regenerated fiber made from chemically recycled domestic cotton waste (SaXcell is an abbreviation of Saxion cellulose).
14 // Vivify Textiles
Vivify Textiles is a Swiss sustainable textile company that manufactures and sells recycled fabrics. They use textile waste and PET plastic waste, as well as organic and natural fibers.
15 // Worn Again
UK company Worn Again uses their advanced recycling technology to convert polyester and polycotton blended textiles, and PET plastic, back into circular raw materials.
Get into the Textile Recycling Habit
You don’t have to necessarily go looking for the companies above. Check out your local centers for Goodwill Textile Recycling, H&M Textile Recycling, and Salvation Army Textile Recycling. They collect a lot of donated clothing items that sometimes cannot be resold by them. So, what they do is recycle those clothes via third-party vendors they partner with. Also check out the options provided by the American Textile Recycling Service.
According to the EPA, Americans produce 15 million tons of annual textile waste. Learn about your clothes, and slowly switch to what is sustainable and biodegradable (for example, vegan leather is not biodegradable). Textile recycling is an essential part of a circular economy, and helps us divert precious resources from the landfill. We also use fewer virgin materials if we recycle textiles, which vastly reduces the harmful impact on the environment. So, all the clothes that you cannot donate, please have them recycled.
Other ways to support a circular economy in fashion is by building a sustainable minimalist wardrobe, buying secondhand clothing, and buying long-lasting, sustainably-made clothing from ethical companies that recycle clothes.
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