Clothing Recycling – Time to Change the Conversation

Time to Change the Conversation Regarding Clothing Recycling

Jackie King Jackie King
is executive director of the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART), an international trade association

Each day, millions of people around the world collect and recycle paper, aluminium, glass and plastic products without a second thought. This has been true for many years as a result of the educational efforts which began with the first ‘Earth Day’ on April 22, 1970. Unfortunately, the first Earth Day environmentalists did not include clothing and textiles as household materials to be recycled.

In fact, clothing and textiles were being recycled long before those early efforts to inform the public of the impact their actions had on the environment. In 1970, there was a thriving clothing recycling industry, dating back well before the turn of the 20th century. In addition to the for-profit clothing recycling industry, charitable organisations were delivering their message of “donate your gently used clothing items”.

In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports, the average person discards 70 pounds (32 kg) of clothing per year. The Agency estimates 85% of these materials wind-up in landfills or incinerators, with only a scant 15% entering the recycling stream.

To begin the effort to change the attitude of the public from ‘donate’ to ‘recycle’, when applied to clothing and textiles, the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART) – the international trade association of for-profit clothing and textile recycling companies – is undertaking a nationwide educational effort. Working in conjunction with educators, the association has developed lesson plans aimed at students aged five to 12.

The classroom materials developed by SMART are grade-appropriate lesson plans that include the message of clothing as a recyclable product. The lessons are available to teachers free of charge, and meet all education standards and teach core skills such as math, science, and vocabulary.

The materials are available through various outlets to more than 750,000 educators and 15 million students in the U.S. In the first four weeks the lessons were available, they were accessed online by more than 3000 teachers with additional requests for information being received by mail. The effort is catching-on with hundreds of thousands to be impacted.

By introducing the concept of recycling clothing at the earliest ages, SMART aims to increase the awareness of clothing as a renewable resource. As a result of these efforts, over time, the association hopes to divert the flow of clothing and textiles out of the municipal waste stream and into the hands of all who recycle these valuable products.