Can You Recycle Fabric

Companies and consumers alike are working harder together to reduce waste, be more environmentally conscious, and create more items using materials that can be re-used or recycled. Plastic bags and straws, however, aren’t the only item that is still threatening the health of our planet and cluttering landfills to overcapacity. Surprisingly, it is fabrics, clothing, and other textiles that are becoming part of a huge factor in environmental issues.

According to the Council for Textile Recycling, on average, Americans discard up to 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles into the trash per year. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) also estimates that textile waste roughly takes up 5% of all landfills.

That is a shocking amount of clothing, fabrics as well as textiles that could be used in other ways. So, the question remains: can a fabric be recycled and reused? And if so, how?

How Do You Recycle Fabric?

One means to recycle and reuse fabrics that we no longer need instead of throwing them away is to donate them. There are many places that may be willing and looking for clothing items, places such as:

  • A local church
  • Non-profit thrift stores
  • Homeless shelters
  • Women's shelters
  • Disaster relief organizations
  • American Red Cross
  • Dress for Success
  • Planet Aid

And many more places may be available locally as well. If you don’t want to donate, or if a donation is not possible for whatever reason you can choose to recycle fabric and fabric scraps. Do keep in mind that the ability to recycle fabrics does depend on where you live but in most major cities and large towns, some programs collect textiles for repurposing them. Before you track down and contact a fabric recycling program, there are a few things you should know.

First, your fabric should be in the right condition for recycling. That doesn’t mean it has to be brand-new, never used, never worn. The right recycling condition for fabrics is making sure that:

  • The fabric is dry.
  • The fabric has been washed and is clean.

If your fabric is still wet or mildew covered or moldy or used recently to clean and tossed into a garbage bin you could ruin the entire bag or bin of fabrics you’re wanting to recycle. Damp textiles most often breed bacteria, which then spreads to the other items you have in the bag with it. If this bag is recycled, it would get packaged into a bale. That bag with breeding bacteria within the entire bale can not only ruin the entire bale, becoming a costly waste, but the bacteria can also literally cause bales to spontaneously combust into flames!

Remember before you attempt to find a place to recycle anything, make sure textiles, fabrics, and clothing are clean and 100% dry first.

Can Fabric be Placed in the Recycling Bin?

Regrettably, most rural and city roadside recycling pick-up programs run by municipalities either do not give the option of placing fabric in their bins or do not have the facilities to recycle fabric. However, most larger cities and towns will have options for textiles to be dropped by at a separate specialized facility, or a separate curbside pick-up program that you may contact if you have fabric to recycle.

How is Fabric Recycled?

Fabrics that are donated to recycling facilities begin their recycling journey with sorting. The sorting process begins at crude sorting where fabrics are manually separated into distinct categories while removing bulkier items like jackets or blankets. Some of these categories may be divided by material type, textile condition, quality, or by the item type such as jeans.

Clothing or textiles that can’t be resold can sometimes be converted into new products using recycled fibers. These are usually pulled into fibers or shredded, which result in a yarn. Then the yarn is processed, cleaned, and re-spun so that it can be reused once again. When it comes to polyester-based fabrics, they’re granulated into polyester chips. These chips are then melted so that they can create new polyester fibers for new textiles.

Understandably, given the current and ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus, there is a chance your recycling facilities capable of taking fabric or, businesses and organizations that receive donations are not currently open. If you have fabric ready to donate and recycle, we recommend you hold onto it until places can accept your donations once more. If you don’t wish to hold on, there is always the option to upcycle! Many fabrics can be turned into quilts, reused for upholstery projects, and used for many craft projects.

As you can see, the fabric can indeed be recycled and reused. With a little research and know-how, or a donation or two, you can help make an impact toward a cleaner, healthier environment easily.