Fabric Recycling and How Your Old Clothes Can Save the Planet

Have you replaced your drapery recently or cleared out an old closet and thrown away all that fabric? It may seem like such a harmless thing to simply dump those yards of fabric in the garbage to be removed by the city’s refuse trucks. But where does all that fabric go, and are you busy killing your planet with your fabric wastes? 

The fabric manufacturing industry produces a surprisingly large amount of pollution with the dyeing, heating, and weaving processes required to make even one bolt of fabric. So what can you do to change things and be a hero for future generations? 

4 Reasons You Should Recycle Old Fabrics and Clothes

There are many reasons you should recycle or upcycle your old belts, shoes, clothes, towels, carpets, and soft furnishings. The main reason is that these all end up in landfills if you simply throw them in the trash. But here are a few other more dreadful truths: 

1. Decomposition Releases Chemicals

When your fabrics and textiles end up in landfills, the fibers will slowly decompose, releasing the chemicals and dyes used in their manufacture into the groundwater. These chemicals are harmful to the local plant and animal life, not to mention to people, as well. Soon, these chemicals and dyes will make the local water supply undrinkable. 

2. Waste Fabric Fills Landfills 

Landfills are a constant problem as the world produces a lot of waste. Adding tonnes of fabric waste to the mix will fill these landfills much more quickly, placing more strain on the local waste management infrastructure. 

If these waste fabrics end up in stormwater drains, they can potentially block these and cause flooding or plumbing problems for towns and cities. 

3. Production of New Fabrics

The fabric production processes create harmful greenhouse emissions, which lead to severe ozone damage. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,  gasses from textile production have a larger carbon footprint than all of the maritime shipping and international flights in total. 

The chemicals required in making new fabrics have to be sourced via chemical processes, which all contribute to further emissions, causing more pollution. 

Likewise, the harvesting of natural fibers also requires chemicals like fertilizer and bleaching agents. The harvesting process requires machinery that produces diesel fumes. Synthetic fabrics also create further pollution due to the melting processes in their manufacturing. 

4. Not Recycling Leads to a Financial Loss

With the cost of sourcing raw materials, it is a real cost saver to recycle fabrics that can be made into new fabrics or repurposed into new goods. Processing raw materials into textiles is a costly and time-consuming process. What a waste when there are tonnes of unused fabrics ready for use. 

How to Recycle Old Clothes, Curtains, Carpets, and Upholstery to Save the Planet

Before you start recycling fabrics, it’s important to group them as either “use as is” or “use in new form.” 

Use as is fabrics are items that can be reused as they are, so donate curtains to shelters or old clothes to the Salvation Army. Using fabric in a new form refers to fabric that can be repurposed for new and different fabric uses. Let’s take a look at these two categories in more detail. 

Use as Is

Examples of this category: shoes, clothes, curtains, bedding, cushions, towels, blankets, sheets, and other fabric items.

Items that are still usable but that you no longer want can be recycled by donating these to charities, institutions that may use these, and even giving them to friends or family. 

The recycling part comes in with these items reducing the need to purchase similar but new items. Hence, your old t-shirts that are being worn by someone else can help reduce the need to harvest more cotton, which saves the world’s water from pesticides, exhaust fumes from harvesters, and emissions from the manufacturing process. 

Use in New Form

Examples of this category: leftover fabrics, old and damaged fabric items like ripped clothes, torn sheets, burned or otherwise damaged bedding and toweling, broken shoes, and old curtains.

When a fabric item is no longer usable as is, it’s time to really get into recycling mode. Fabric can be cut to make new source material for sewing projects (which can also lead to job creation), art projects to make new bathroom mats, and more, and fabric can also be cut into smaller rags to use for cleaning in workshops and factories. 

Finally, plastic fabrics that are being recycled can be melted down to make microfiber fabrics and other recycled fabrics.

Fabric Recycling FAQs

Question: What can I do with waste fabric?

Answer: There are many ways to use waste fabric, from cutting used fabric into small blocks to use in the manufacturing industry as rags and other polishing cloths to cutting it into thin strips or bits to use as insulation or padding for upholstery.

Question: Why is it important to evaluate fabric before recycling?

Answer: A textile recycler is someone who specializes in evaluating fabric before recycling. The recycler will ensure the usable fabrics are separated from the fabrics that will be separated to the level of yarns and threads.  

Question: How are fabrics recycled?

Answer: After the fabrics are sorted, the waste fabric is separated into fibers and yarns (called shoddy), before being blended with other fibers and dyed to be spun into new yarn that can be woven into new textiles. 

The Final Rag

Recycling is important if we’re going to save the world. While you may think of recycling glass, paper, or plastic, it’s equally important to recycle fabrics by either reusing or repurposing. Finally, many fabric types can be used to create fibers and yarns that can be compressed to make any number of things, from felt to carpet underlay and soundproofing. For more great recycling ideas for your old fabric, clothes, towels, sheets, and curtains, read about recycling upholstery fabric.

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