Why Textile Waste Should be Banned From Landfills

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

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