What's the Deal with Textile Waste?

Amanda Close
April 7, 2022

Let's face it, we all wear clothes. In fact, global consumption of textile products has doubled in the last two decades due to population increase and the rise and spread of fast fashion. In the United States alone 17 million tons of textile waste is generated annually - that's 104 pounds per person per year. Yikes!

I could write a novel about the negative environmental and social impacts that the life cycle of a typical 'fast fashion' garment has on the planet. However, in lieu of diving into this topic here I'd highly recommend you watch the 2015 documentary The True Cost. For the remainder of this blog I am instead going to focus on ways that YOU can interrupt the fast fashion cycle and reduce your textile waste.

1. Care for the clothing that you already have.

  • Line dry instead of machine dry (saves energy too!)
  • Know how to care for specific materials. Check out this great guide from Patagonia.

2. Repair instead of dispose of when things break.

  • There are a plethora of youtube videos and blogs out there around DIY repair and mending. Creative visible mending in the style of Japanese sashiko is a personal favorite of us at Waste Loop, as this style of mending repairs textiles while adding to the beauty of the item. 
  • Another option is to use a professional repair service. A great local option is Colchuck Consignment. Certain brands like Patagonia encourage repair and offer services for all of their products. 

3. Refresh your wardrobe with a clothing swap!

4. Buy used/consign your clothes.

  • There are a plethora of options when it comes to buying used, from local shops like Das Thrift Haus, Colchuck Consignment, and On the Avenue Boutique to national chains such as Goodwill to online resale platforms like thredUP.
  • When donating used clothing and other goods please be conscientious about only dropping off items in usable condition. Items that are mildewy, ripped, or broken become waste that must be disposed of by (often) underfunded nonprofits trying to 'do the right thing' by reselling used goods. About 700,000 tons of used clothing is exported overseas annually (1.4 billion pounds), much of it donated clothing that did not sell in the US marketplace.

5. Be a mindful consumer.

  • Purchase fewer high quality pieces that you can mix and match for many outfits versus many cheap items that only go with one color/pattern scheme.
  • Purchase natural fiber (wool, linen, organic cotton) when you can to reduce microplastic fibers released while washing.
  • Consider renting items for special occasions using a service such as Rent the Runway.

6. Limit buying on a whim and returning later.

  • An estimated 2.6 million tons of returns ended up in the landfill in the US in 2020. The transportation of these same items produced 16 million tons of CO2 emissions. 
  • The reason? It's often logistically and financially easier/cheaper for companies to send unwanted items to the landfill versus trying to resell them. Clothing is especially susceptible to this practice due to the constantly changing trends and consumer demands arising from the fast fashion industry.

7. Repurpose old textiles.

  • Old t-shirts can be upcycled into tote bags, quilts, rag rugs… with some creativity and the help of the many online blogs out there, the possibilities are endless!
  • Cutting up old sheets into household rags is an easy way to reduce your reliance on paper towels.

8. Recycle if you can. 

We will be honest here, there are not a ton of great options, and none local to central Washington. However, there are some promising new ideas and businesses coming on the scene that make us optimistic for the future of textile recycling. Here is what we have discovered:

Ravel is a Washington based start up company that is seeking to interrupt the problem of textile waste by developing technology and infrastructure to transform blended fiber material into mono-material like-new fiber that can then be used to make new garments.

As mentioned earlier, Patagonia has a robust professional repair service (mail in and store drop off), DIY repair how to videos on website, and Worn Wear program, which pays customers (store credit) for their old and worn Patagonia items. Garments are either re-sold or recycled.

Cotton's Blue Jeans Go Green program partners with retailers such as Madewell and American Eagle to collect used jeans in stores (any brand), which are repurposed into house insulation. Over 4,200,000 pairs have been recycled since this program began. Not near a participating retailer? You can mail in jeans directly to Blue Jeans Go Green for free, thanks to Zappos for Good.

Native Shoes Remix Project partners with Zappos for Good to provide a shoe recycling option that is accessible for most. The project accepts all brands and types of shoes and grinds them down into small pieces that are then repurposed for community projects, such as playground flooring, insulation, and more! Free shipping labels are provided by Zappos and can be printed using the link above.

Infinna Fiber is a Finland based company with a mission to make textile circularity an everyday reality. They have developed technology to break down cotton rich textiles to their polymer level, thus creating a cotton like textile fiber known as cellulose carbamate fiber that can be used to create new products.

For Days is a mail in textile recycling service that is fairly transparent on their website about their recycling process. While we still have questions about this process, they do mention fiber processing partners (Leigh Fibers and Phoenix Fibers) on their website, which is a lot more (transparency wise) than other similar businesses.