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Science and Innovations

Earth Notes: Textile Recycling

Reusing old clothes isn’t a new habit. Americans have long donated out-of-fashion or too-small clothing to charities or resale boutiques. Creative quilters, weavers, and seamstresses cut up old dresses and restitch them into something new. Some creative, eco-conscious artists even remodel threadbare garb into couture garments and bags.

But it’s estimated that much of the nearly twelve million tons of clothing, shoes, and textiles that Americans discard each year does end up in landfills.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and in fact some are beginning to see the value in even the most ripped-up pair of old jeans. Yes, even they have some use left in them.

Some towns pick up clothing at curbside and ship it to reclamation mills, where it’s sorted, shredded, blended with other fibers, and woven into new fabric. Cotton, denim, wool, and linen are repurposed as rags, upholstery, roofing felt, and home insulation.

Outdoor clothing company Patagonia is a leader in turning old clothes into new. Through its Common Threads Recycling Program, the company will take back used products for recycling or repurposing. At Mountain Sports in Flagstaff, owner Mark Lamberson keeps a receptacle where people can drop off used clothing. He ships a large boxful back to Patagonia about every other month.

Go ahead and turn those holey old socks into rags, and bring your good stuff to where it can be sold again. But remember that even your most beat-up old clothes can be recycled into something new.

Looking to recycle some old clothes, or something else? Check for a directory of local resources.

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