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Why Textile Waste Should be Banned From Landfills

3p Contributor | Monday January 2nd, 2012 | 10 Comments

By Mattias Wallander, CEO of USAgain

According to the most recently released figures from the EPA, in 2010 Americans discarded 13.1 million tons of textiles.  Only 15 percent of which was reclaimed for recycling, while more than 11 million tons of textiles were dumped in landfills across the country. The exact long-term environmental costs of clothing, footwear, linens and other textiles going into landfills is difficult to calculate, but we know what the harmful effects can be.

Decomposing clothing releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas and a significant contributor to global warming. There are dyes and chemicals in fabric and other components of clothing and shoes that can leach into the soil, contaminating both surface and groundwater.

This is not to mention the amount of space. Eleven million tons of textiles clogs up approximately 126 million cubic yards of landfill space – and that’s just one year’s worth of discards.  Most of this material is completely reusable or recyclable, but only if it is proactively collected. There is a massive demand for secondhand clothing in developing countries and other materials can be recycled into furniture padding, insulation, wiping rags and recycled fabrics. So the question remains: how do we motivate people and move from a 15 percent recycling rate to 100 percent?

For many years there were similar problems with electronics. There was incentive for public participation in electronics recycling programs, but in 2003, California became the first state to ban the disposal of electronics in landfills. Today, 18 states and New York City have a landfill or incineration ban on electronics. As a result, three times more electronics are being recycled in the US today than just 10 years ago.

We need to impose a similar ban on textiles in landfills. Such a ban wouldn’t just save our environment, it would also save taxpayers and cities money, too. The average charge for unloading or dumping of waste at a landfill or transfer facility is about $44 per ton. Keeping textiles out of landfills would save the US economy more than $375 million per year in these fees alone. This is in addition to the economic benefits of job creation; the textile reclamation industry employs 85 times more workers than landfills and incinerators on a per-ton basis.

A ban on textiles in landfills would lend political support for municipal governments, businesses and non-profit groups to get together and finally bridge the 85 percent gap in textile recycling while creating much-needed jobs, saving taxpayers money, and keeping people around the world well dressed. And our planet will thank us, too.

image: Udit Kulshrestha via Flickr cc


▼▼▼      10 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • Gordon S

    In the Middle Ages they used to recycle scrap cloth for paper making.  Not only was the paper of extremely high quality, but it was not subject to the yellowing and brittleness of the acid pulp papers. Our company does a brisk business in vapor intrusion mitigation using sub-slab depressurization systems.  Not only do we have to reduce indoor air concentrations of tetrachloroethylene, some of which comes from dry cleaning solution remaining on discarded DRY CLEANED clothing, but we also have cases where homes were built next to landfills, and methane is being generated just as you speak of in this article.  Maybe a nationwide recycling effort for clothing would be a good idea.  We see the effects in our industry.  And even though we appreciate the boost to our business, I can see where this could be an increasing problem as time goes on.

    • Allen DeNormandie

      Gordon, I am in a pilot project that has the potential of recycling and removing ALL textiles from landfill exposure. Perhaps we should collaborate? Allen DeNormandie, BDA Consortium Corp 312-841-4883 (mobil)

  • RPfannenstiel

    Nationwide Foam Recycling recycles tear off roofing waste throughout North America. Nationwidefoam.com

  • Anonymous

    All we can read is “13.1 million tons of free textiles”. Sounds like room for more business here!

  • CFC

    This is the type of regulation where the over meant action will create jobs and spur he conomy.

  • http://twitter.com/Adriana_Herrera Adriana Herrera

    Non-profits like The S.W.A.P. and sites like Style Swap and ebay’s collaboration with Patagonia are giving people an alternative to throwing away old clothes.  People are beginning to see that there is value beyond environmental protection in swapping – there’s “new” stuff in it for them as well.  An incentive to recycle clothing/ textiles is an interesting idea. 

  • Jon

    The fact that 11 million tons go to landfills is reason enough to promote more textile recycling.

  • Ben121

    That is a lot of clothes going to landfills. Mandate recycling, create jobs, save landfills makes complete sense.

  • Allen DeNormandie

    Our firm is currently partnering with a recycling company to extract ALL TEXTILES from going into landfills. The pilot project is currently underway to determine the value and volume of textiles that could be recycled and or refurbished. Allen DeNormandie Vettech Company 31-841-4883 ( mobil)

  • Julia Blake

    I am a teacher at a charter school in Houston, Texas. I am working on the syllabus for a an arts class (Art II Fibers) for next semester. The focus of the class is in preserving, reusing, refurbishing, recycling, and extending the life of textiles. Fiber courses usually emphasize the process of creation, our class will focus on what can be done after products are created and are on the way to being discarded. I truly believe in changing the landfill-happy culture we live in from an early age.