Recycling Textiles And More

Air Date:
Heard On The Larry Meiller Show

While glass, paper and plastics are commonly recycled, textiles are not. Larry Meiller finds out about a pilot project in northeast Wisconsin, plus a refresher on options for recycling electronics.

Featured in this Show

  • Cans, Bottles And … T-Shirts? Yes, Textiles Can Be Recycled, Too

    Today, recycling has become second nature for many people when it comes to things like bottles, cans, and plastics. But other items, like old clothing, may not be obvious candidates for recycling, resulting in more materials ending in the landfill than is necessary.

    Jennifer Semrau is the recycling specialist for Winnebago County Solid Waste in Oshkosh and recently wrote an article about textile recycling for the magazine Nature’s Pathway.

    “Textiles encompass more than just apparel, more than just clothing,” she said. “It also includes things like shoes, bedding, pillows, drapery, and other things like that. So all of that is covered in what we refer to as textile recycling.”

    While textile recycling has not been emphasized historically, Semrau said there are good reasons for individuals and municipalities to make it more of a focus. She said that annually in the United States, an average of 25 billion pounds of textiles end up in landfills, the equivalent of 82 pounds per person.

    “Sadly, only 15 percent of the textiles that are produced are recycled, so 85 percent is discarded. So we really have a long way to go, and there is a lot of room for improvement to increase those percentages,” Semrau said.

    When someone decides that they no longer need certain apparel items, the first instinct is often to donate them to a secondhand store. That option not only keeps them out of the landfill, but provides usable clothing to someone who likely needs it.

    Clothes that are damaged in some way might not seem eligible for recycling, but Semrau said even items that won’t get worn again have their uses.

    “Clothing or other textiles that are in fair or poor condition — like a shirt with missing buttons, pants with a tear, or sheets or towels with a low thread count — are very much desired by the textile resale market,” she said.

    Semrau advised checking to see if textiles are in acceptable-enough condition to be sold in a store or online, where the highest resale price will often be paid. One grade below that, and it’s best to sell the items by the pound at an outlet store.

    Any other items could go to what Semrau called a post-retail, or salvage, marketplace. Many of those textiles will be turned into cleaning rags or polishing clothes that are used in commercial or industrial settings, she said. That’s the end result for 30 percent of recycled textiles.

    Another 20 percent of recycled textiles are reduced to their component fibers for use as upholstery stuffing, insulation, soundproofing, and carpet padding, Semrau said.

    After all of the usable textiles are channeled to the appropriate destination, about 5 percent of recycled textiles do need to be sent to the landfill. Semrau said that those items are usually contaminated with solvents or other chemicals, so it is best not to include those items with other, cleaner, donations.

    To find local textile recycling options, Semrau suggested using the online search tool of the Council for Textile Recycling.

Episode Credits

  • Larry Meiller Host
  • Judith Siers-Poisson Producer
  • Jennifer Semrau Guest

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