Thursday, November 19, 2020

Repair, Repurpose, Recycle your clothes

We all know (tell me we all know!) that we can donate our unwanted clothes to thrift stores and charities. We also realize (don't we?) that those stores can only resell our donated clothing if it's in decent condition. The clothes that don't fit us anymore, that aren't really our style anymore, that we never actually liked and never wore that much.

So, what do we do with the clothes that we've worn out beyond repair?

Why waste an entire knee sock when the
only part that's worn out is the heel?
It seems sacrilege to put a wad of textiles into the trash. Especially when many items, while no longer functional as a proper article of clothing, still have large swaths of usable fabric to spare.

Ever bent over and ripped your pants from butt seam to inner thigh? Yeah. That won't be a pretty mending job. No one is going to wear those pants again. But, despite that one nasty tear, I'll bet you the threads are in pristine condition elsewhere, like from the knee down to the hem.

I've often cut out and saved such remnants to use in craft projects, like turning old knee socks into awesome argyle arm warmers. For my first nephew's first Christmas, I made him a dog puppet out of sweat-pants scraps. He was named Scrappy, of course. The puppet, not the nephew. And, I made a fabric "busy book" for both sets of niblings entirely out of scrap material. (I need to post that.)

But there are only so many crafts to be made (and only so many crafty gifts you can give). No matter how many crafty people are out there, Americans are still adding more than 11 million tons of textiles to landfills each year. Another 2.5 million tons gets recycled.

Many of us are lucky enough to have a garbage pickup service that includes single-stream recycling, and we can throw all of our recyclables into one bin that gets picked up at our curb. But it's not really all the recyclables, is it? Paper, plastic, metal, and glass, yes. But what about cloth?

Notable local the late Greg Zanis knew what to do about cloth. Here he is saving cotton from the landfill -- and making money on it. 

When I was kid, my family saved aluminum cans for recycling. There was always a garbage bag next to the garage door, slowly, slowly collecting our crushed soda cans. When we finally had a couple of bags full, we took it to the local metal recycling center, where they would weigh it and pay us a few bucks. And then we'd go buy ice cream.

These days, I'm not that interested in letting recyclables accumulate in my garage until they reach a profitable volume. I just want to be rid of the stuff -- responsibly.

So, we're back to the question. What do we do with the clothes we can't donate?

I have not had an easy time navigating recycling search tools like those available from Earth911 or the Illinois EPA. The results come back with Goodwill stores that will take wearable clothing, not scrap fabric. I think you'll have better luck Googling things like "textile recycling in [state]" to find options in your area. That's how I found these:

Let's not forget the preferable order of waste management: 1. Reduce, 2. Reuse, 3. Recycle

Number 1 is just buying less. You can do it! I believe in you.

Number 2 is making what you have last longer, in its original form or otherwise. (Spending 200 years not really decomposing in a landfill is not the kind of lasting we're after.) For clothing, "reuse" covers donating your gently used duds so someone else can use them. It can also be interpreted a couple of other ways... also starting with R! 

Repair. Small rip? Popped button? Learn how to mend your own clothes, or just pay the few bucks most dry cleaners charge to do it for you.

Repurpose. Get your craft on! Or use old t-shirts as cleaning rags. Or braid strips of old jeans into a tug rope for your dog. Save for next Halloween's zombie costume.

Only after exhausting options 1 and 2 do we fall back on number 3. Recycling; i.e., processing the clothes into textile fibers to be made into something new.

No comments:

Post a Comment