Even when a garment is too shabby to resell, there are still good ways to keep it out of a landfill.
[ EARTHTALK ] BY THE EDITORS OF E MAGAZINE
Q: How or where can I recycle clothes that are too old or worn out for Goodwill?
A: Just because that old shirt you used to love is too threadbare to wear anymore doesn't mean it has to end up in a landfill. "Consumers don't understand that there's a place for their old clothing even if something is missing a button or torn," says Jana Hawley, a professor of textile and apparel management at the University of Missouri-Columbia. "Ninety-nine percent of used textiles are recyclable."
Nonprofits like Goodwill and the Salvation Army play a crucial role in keeping old clothes out of the waste stream. When they get donations of clothes that are too threadbare to resell in one of their shops, they send them to "rag sorters" that specialize in recycling pieces of fabric large and small. Says Ms. Hawley, these textile recyclers sell about half the clothing they get back overseas in developing countries, while unusable garments, especially cotton T-shirts, are turned into wiping and polishing clothes used by a variety of industries and sold to consumers. She adds that other textiles are shredded into fibers used to make new products, such as sound-deadening materials for the automotive industry, archival-quality paper, blankets, and even plastic fencing.