Disposable Design

12 million tons of textiles goes to our landfills every year: here’s what we can do about it.

Next time you’re cleaning out your closet, be mindful that your seemingly insignificant trash-bag full of clothing is representative of a huge problem in our country.

It’s not just tossing old clothes that are causing problems; everything from the production of materials like cotton, which requires huge quantities of water to grow, to the chemicals used in the dying process, and even the energy used to heat water for a load of laundry, impacts our environment.

According to the Council for Textile Recycling, Americans send 12.5 million tons of textiles to the landfill every year. That’s 82 pounds per person. On top of that, Americans only donate 15% of their unwanted clothing every year, which means that 85% goes into a landfill. The EPA estimates show that textile waste fills 5% of landfill space.

Often, the solution to reducing waste is to recycle, but with clothing, the recycling process isn’t simple. With some fabrics, like cotton, breaking down the material breaks down the strength of the fibers. On top of that, most clothes aren’t made of only one one material – most clothing is a composite of materials like cotton, polyester, and spandex, which further complicates the process.

Evrnu is a company dedicated to perfecting the practice of taking old clothing, shredding them, and breaking down the molecules to create a new fiber. But perfecting this task is a challenge and is still far from being a realistic plan.

Luckily, in the mean time, there are already plenty of local programs and charities to aid the reuse cause.

Dress for Success Denver is a charity dedicated to empowering women and helping them become economically independent. One aspect of the charity is providing professional attire for women who have an upcoming job interview or who have just been offered a job. If you have any professional women’s clothing in good shape, Dress for Success might be the right place for you to donate. Amara Martin, the executive director, says that the clothing they accept for donations should be clean, and look almost new, something you might offer to your sister or a friend.

Goodwill is another option for clothing donations, with a wider range of accepted clothing. According to Jessica Smith of Goodwill Denver, 12 million pounds of clothing was donated to Goodwill in 2015. Goodwill is one of the most widespread charities, with donation centers all around the greater Denver area.

Deacon’s Closet, operated out of Boulder’s First Presbyterian Church on 16th and Walnut, offers clothing at no cost to those in need. As winter approaches, keep in mind that their need for coats, gloves, and hats, grows.

Even though this problem isn’t small, every small effort to help makes a difference. So next time you clean out your closet, donate clothes to someone in need instead of dropping them into the trash.