By: Lily Shen
Most of us seem to know about recycling paper, metal, glass, and plastic, but there is a lot less awareness about clothing and textile recycling. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans disposed an estimated 13.1 million tons of textiles in 2010, which accounts for 5.3 percent of total municipal solid waste (MSW) generation. Only about 15 percent of textiles are recovered for recycling. In addition, when clothing and textiles decompose, they release methane, a harmful greenhouse gas and major contributor to climate change. The dyes and chemicals from the discarded textiles can also leach into the soil and contaminate surface and groundwater.
A couple weeks ago, I dug through my closets and drawers and gathered a bunch of old jeans, socks, and t-shirts into a shopping bag. After this therapeutic clothing purge, it felt great to see more space open up in my closets and dresser. Although my worn out clothes could not be donated to the Salvation Army, I didn’t want these garments to end up in a landfill by tossing them in the trash. Instead, I dropped off my bag of clothes at GrowNYC’s clothing and textile recycling bin. Every Sunday from 8AM to 3PM, GrowNYC accepts clean and dry clothing, paired shoes, linens, hats, handbags, belts, and fabric scraps (36 inches x 36 inches or larger) for recycling at the Columbia University Greenmarket (Broadway between 114th and 115th Street). Through GrowNYC, clothing and textiles can be dropped every week for recycling at 17 greenmarkets around the city. (No rugs or carpets are accepted.) All donations are tax deductible. Go to GrowNYC’s website for a complete schedule and location information.
After the textiles are collected at GrowNYC, they sorted into different grades, including usable/non-usable, cotton scrap, cotton blend scrap, and synthetics. The materials are then sold for reuse as clothing, linens, and other products, or they can find a second life as wiping rags, car seat fiber, and insulation.
Through the Columbia Environmental Stewardship program, you can also drop off textiles for recycling or reuse in the Wearable Collections bins in the rear lobby of the first floor of the Jerome Green Law School (116th Street and Amsterdam Avenue). In partnership with GrowNYC, Wearable Collections has clothing collection bins at Greenmarkets around New York City. If you are unable to drop off your clothing and textiles at the participating Greenmarket locations and have several bags of material, contact Wearable Collections at 646-515-4387 or firstname.lastname@example.org to find out if you are eligible for a home pickup. Through Wearable Collections, you can also request to have a clothing collection bin placed in your apartment building. Wearable Collections will provide flyers to notify residents about the textile recycling program and can schedule a weekly pickup from your building. Since Wearable Collections is a for-profit organization, it cannot provide tax-deductible receipts for home pickups of clothing. However, through its partnership with GrowNYC, Wearable Collections can hand out tax deductible receipts for textile donations at its participating Greenmarket locations.
If we all do our part in recycling clothing and textiles, we can save tons of waste material from ending up in the landfills. Many of us have clothing, accessories, and linens that we haven’t used in years. Instead of letting them take up valuable storage space in your home, help them find a second home through recycling.
Lily Shen is a student in CERC’s Certificate Program in Conservation and Environmental Sustainability. She has previously been published in the New York Times.