The garment industry is a huge consumer of energy and water, accounting for around 4% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. As the slow fashion movement begins to disrupt the industry, there is an urgent need for ways to reduce textile waste. We’ve identified three companies that are working to keep textiles out of landfills.
FABSCRAP: Collection and recycling of pre-consumer textiles
Fabscrap deals with pre-consumer fabrics in the New York and Philadelphia fashion industries. The company works with designers and entertainment companies to recycle and reuse fabric waste from the design process. This is a very small part of the waste associated with the garment industry, says company founder Jessica Schreiber. But her company is not big enough to handle the textile waste from the manufacturing process.
Once Fabscrap collects textile waste from its customers, volunteers sort it into the following categories: landfill waste, fabrics that can be recycled, or fabrics that need to be recycled. Schreiber pointed out that most textile waste is recycled in poor condition. (Shoddy is a low-quality material that manufacturers use for mattress padding, insulation, carpet padding, and other non-clothing purposes.)
Schreiber explains that most fabrics are made of mixed materials, in other words, a mixture of synthetic and natural fibers. Because it is too difficult to separate these fibers, garments made from mixed materials are likely to be recycled. Unless the fabric is made of a single type of fiber, such as 100% cotton, it is very difficult to recycle old clothes into new clothes.
Fabscrap collects 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of textile waste per week, or about 260,000 pounds per year, and has more than 8,000 volunteers to help with sorting. The company rewards volunteers with 5 pounds of fabric per work session. Fabscrap sells reusable fabrics in its physical stores in New York and Philadelphia.
Good will: directly reuse the clothes and recycle the rest
Goodwill Industries is a global non-profit organization that helps people improve their lives through job training, job opportunities, and more. Some local Goodwill chapters also offer hot meals, financial literacy training, and childcare. You may know the nonprofit best from its regional thrift stores that sell inexpensive clothing and homewares.
In 2020, the Greater Cleveland and East Central Ohio Regional Goodwill Chapter helped over 819,000 people. It also carried over 18 million pounds of goods donated to its Goodwill stores from landfills. Four million pounds of this Goodwill merchandise either dedicated to an aftermarket program or recycled.
While the clothing items won’t sell at a Goodwill store, the nonprofit does offer them at its outlet stores where it sells trash textiles for just $1.59 a pound. Textiles that do not sell in this second market are sorted into categories – rags, garments or linens – and baled. Aftermarket retailers who purchase these balls often ship the material to other countries where it is used to make shoddy scrap or recycled into rags.
Goodwill staff we spoke to said Goodwill prefers donations of undamaged textiles that it can sell in its stores. However, Goodwill has this multi-step process to avoid wasting any usable textiles.
For Days: Circular economy mode and collection of useless clothes
Sustainable clothing brand For Days is working to close the loop on textile waste by selling zero-waste clothing and accepting clothes for recycling.
For Days reuses all of its fabric manufacturing waste into new For Days garments. The company also recycles used For Days clothing that customers return. It becomes a fabric that For Day uses to create new clothing collections. In addition, the company accepts clothing from any brand in any condition. To donate clothing, purchase a $20 Take Back Bag, fill it with clothing, and receive the $20 back as a credit toward your next For Days purchase.
For Days clothing is zero waste because it is designed to be recycled. It is 100% organic cotton with minimal elastic and is easy to take apart for recycling. When the company receives garments made from mixed materials, it sells the fabric to manufacturers to make it of poor quality.
“At For Days, we strongly believe that all fashion companies should take responsibility for what happens to clothes after our customers love and wear them,” says Kristy Caylor, CEO of For Days. “Our goal at For Days was to figure out how to make participating in the circular economy a simple, transparent and rewarding experience for all fashion lovers.”
Currently, For Days accepts clothing for recycling only from the United States. Company plans to expand recycling program in Europe
How consumers can help reduce textile waste
While these are just a few of the many approaches communities and businesses can take to reduce textile waste, consumers must also play a role. Each of us can strive to buy used, which means that we give textiles a second chance. We can also reduce our overall clothing consumption and only buy items that we know we will wear many times. We can support sustainable clothing brands, buy quality clothing made from natural fibers and care for them properly so they last.
EarthDay.org has additional tips to help you buy clothes sustainably. Consider shopping at retailers that recycle your clothes for you.