Today I’m thrilled to welcome sustainable stylist Nancy Dilts back to Already Pretty! A few weeks ago, Nancy and I got to talking about textile recycling – a topic that fascinates me, as someone who is trying to shop and live more sustainably – and eventually I found myself begging her to share her knowledge with you folks. So I’ll turn it over to Nancy and let her dig right in.
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Consign, Donate, or RECYCLE?
As a wardrobe consultant who specializes in practicing sustainable consumerism, a large part of my work with clients is to help them embrace their personal style sustainably, using three strategies:
- Making your existing wardrobe as functional as possible
- Shopping new-to-you (second-hand)
- Shopping ethically when purchasing new clothing
When we do a Wardrobe Consult, we look at the client’s existing wardrobe to purge the items that no longer work and make the ones that do work more functional. What to do with clothing that is outdated, worn out, or no longer fits can be daunting. As a result, Americans recycle or donate only 15 percent of their used clothing, and the rest—about 10.5 million tons a year—goes into landfills. Textiles are a significant contributor to solid waste issues around the world.
Please don’t throw away discarded clothing! Consign, donate, or recycle it. Here’s how.
A few months back, Sally wrote this post about choosing consignment over donation, and she’s absolutely right. If clothing is in good condition and five or less years old, consign rather than donate. This also holds true for classic vintage items. Consigning is a little more effort than donating – clothing must be clean, free of stains, undamaged (no tears or holes, broken zippers, missing buttons, etc.) and wrinkle-free.
However, it guarantees that clothing will be kept in the use stream. Plus, depending on what you are consigning, you can earn a modest to significant payback in store credit or cash for your items.
The growing scene of local consignment shops around the nation – as well as online consignment sites like old standby eBay and newer thredup, swap.com and the RealReal – make consignment easier than ever. Selling – and buying – consignment is the best way to reduce the environmental (and human rights) impact of your clothing.
Many items are just too old or worn out for consignment. This is where it gets trickier in deciding the most environmentally friendly method of disposal. Many items can be donated, but not all of them. A good rule of thumb is that if items are less than 10 years old and in decent condition, they are great candidates for donation. As Sally mentioned in her post, charitable organizations are absolutely inundated with donations, and a surprisingly large amount of donated clothes never make it onto the sales floor. Things that are very old, damaged or worn out will not be put out for sale.
Charitable organizations recycle some unused donations. Often though, they bale these items and send them to developing nations, where some do get used, but not all of them. Again, the sheer quantity of unwanted clothing in the United States is mind-boggling. Items that are not used in developing nations end up in landfills there, exacerbating solid waste issues that are often much worse than those in the United States. Out of sight is not out of mind.
So, what to do with those items that really aren’t fit for sale? Recycle them.
When considering what should be recycled, think about what you would want to wear or would feel comfortable giving to a friend. If you wouldn’t do either with a specific garment, then recycle it instead of donating it. That way you know for sure that the item will not end up in a landfill here or across the world but will instead be put to use in another form.
Textile recycling is becoming easier for the average citizen. In many cities and metro regions, including the Twin Cities where I live, curbside recycling programs accept textiles at the curb or have drop-off sites. Check your recycling service’s methods for accepting textiles – this is the most reliable way to ensure that your items will be recycled and repurposed as rags, furniture stuffing, upholstery, home insulation, automobile sound-proofing, carpet padding, building materials and various other products.
Another way to recycle unwanted clothing is in metal drop-boxes one sees around town, often in parking lots of shopping areas or grocery stores. Some of these bins are donation sites for charitable organizations; others are for-profit textile recycling companies. USAgain is one such company that has drop-boxes all around the United States. Even though these companies are for-profit rather than charitable, they are ensuring that unwanted textiles are recycled. Read the signs on the drop-boxes to distinguish whether they are for donation or recycling and choose accordingly. In any case, choose only bins that are professional, forthright in their purpose, and well maintained. Otherwise, your clothing may not end up where you hope.
Purchasing new-to-you clothing is an easy and effective way to begin practicing sustainable consumerism. Closing the loop with environmentally responsible methods for reuse and recycling of clothing we no longer use is the way to take the next critical step.
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Nancy Dilts, founder of Nancy Dilts Wardrobe Consulting, brings her passions – personal style, positive body image, and the environment – together to help her clients feel great about how they look, using an economically and environmentally sustainable approach. Nancy has an MA in Environmental and Resource Policy and, before launching NDWC, spent close to 20 years working in the field of environmental education and outreach raising awareness about environmental issues and teaching about how our behaviors impact the environment. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her husband, daughter, and dog, and is certain she will one day find a way to incorporate her other passion – chocolate – into her business model.
Contact Nancy to book a Wardrobe Consult, Personal Shopping session, or service package.