Zero Waste Moving Guide, Part I: Textiles & Clothing


I’ve moved twelve times in the last eleven years. Half of them I blame on boys (both the moving in and the moving out), and [most of] the other half were a product of my own wanderlust. I’ve shed bits and pieces of myself with each new set of keys, learned to store memories in places, songs, and photographs instead of kitsch. I have become a lean, mean, moving machine, and I’m not too humble to say that I’m really effing good at it by now. 

But no matter how immune to accumulating stuff I think I’ve become since the last time I moved, inevitably there’s some purging to do before the truck arrives. It’s a task I’m of split mind about: on the one hand, I love the opportunity to cull the clutter from my life. On the other hand, doing so can generate a lot of trash to throw “away,” a place that increasingly refers to communities, countries, and ecosystems with less political and economic power than I enjoy as a privileged white American living in a posh city. 

Since I’ve begun inching towards a zero-waste lifestyle (operative word: inching), I made a more concerted effort this last time around—I moved three times this summer—to figure out how to get rid of my old stuff without sending it “away.” Loads of Google searches later, my big takeaway is that almost everything is reusable or recyclable if you’re willing to plan a little bit and take the time to do it. Over the next several weeks, I'll be posting, by category, of some of the most useful resources I discovered, starting today with Textiles! 

Clothing_and_textile_Recycling.jpg

WHAT IS IT

Regular clothes, bras, towels, sheets, carpets, shoes, curtains, winter coats, and single socks whose mates will never be found and you're finally ready to admit it.   

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT

According to the EPA, more than 15 million tons of textiles are sent to our nation’s incinerators and landfills every year (that’s roughly 6% of all waste), while only 2.3 million tons are recycled. In terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, recycling textiles offers a huge bang for its buck: recycling 2.3 million tons is equivalent to removing 1.3 million cars from our roads—second only to aluminum cans in its impact. Get on it, folks!

WHERE DOES IT GO? 

According to the Textile Recovery Initiative, almost half of all donated textiles are resold or reused as-is. Goodwill and Salvation Army sell what they can directly to consumers in the U.S., and the rest is sold to textile brokers, who sort, bale, and ship what’s left to second-hand clothing markets in developing countries.* Most of the remaining half is either turned into industrial wiping cloths or broken down in fiber conversion plants, to be converted into things like insulation, carpet padding, and sound-proofing material. 

*Side note: This second-hand clothing trade to developing countries is controversial because it dumps loads of undervalued clothing into [primarily] African markets, undercutting local textile industries. Others argue that while this may be true to some extent, western non-profits are generally selling the clothing to local vendors—not giving it away for free—and thus it provides economic benefit to those who in turn sell it in their own stalls. Like everything else, it’s complicated; plus China. I’m not an expert on the ins and outs of economic policy, so my best advice is to do your research and try to make the decision you feel causes the least amount of harm.

YOUR OPTIONS:

I. RESELL — Get cash for perfectly usable clothes that you no longer want.

  • If you're hip and have the time, it can be fun to swing by a consignment store like Buffalo Exchange with garments that you’ve culled from your closet. 

  • If you’re less excited about lugging a bag of clothes downtown for some snotty twenty-something to tell you they aren’t cool enough (…and by extension, you’re not cool enough), there are a couple online options that make the process less painful: 

    • Thred Up seems to be the easiest — request a “Clean Out Kit” and they’ll send you a prepaid, pre-addressed shipping envelope which you fill up with clothes and send back to them. They’ll decide which items to buy from you, and will donate or recycle the rest. 

    • Poshmark gives you more control, allowing you to manage your own listings by photographing and posting items yourself. They handle the back end sales process, sending the seller a pre-paid, pre-addressed envelope in which to ship the item to the buyer.

 

II. DONATE - the pain free, warm fuzzies option. 

  • I probably don’t have to mention the big ones like Goodwill and the Salvation Army, but just in case you’re new to this…they take CLOTHES, SHOES, and so much more… 

  • If, like me, you picked up a salsa dancing habit in your thirties and have a bunch of sequined performance costumes hanging in your closet that you’ll never wear again, Traveling Tutus has your back. They also take other styles of DANCE COSTUMES and shoes, from dancers of all ages, for the record.  

  • BRAS often feel like icky items to donate, but they are some of the most needed items in less economically privileged communities both here in the U.S. and abroad, and most clothing donation centers will gladly take gently used items. 

    • Free The Girls is one such organization seeking such donations, with the mission of providing safe economic opportunity to survivors of sex-trafficking in developing countries by giving them gently used bras to sell in their local second-hand market. 

  • Soles4Souls accepts donations of new and gently used SHOES to help enterprising individuals start businesses to help lift themselves out of poverty. Partner Zappos for Good will even pay for your shipping, up to 50 lbs per box! 

  • So many schools, after-school centers, YMCAs, women's shelters, etc. would love to have those beads, paint brushes, and FABRIC SCRAPS that you won't have room for in your new space. The Dreaming Zebra is a national organization that collects and distributes new and used art supplies for kids, but your best bet might just be to pick up the phone and call around to organizations in your local community. 

 

III. RECYCLE - Blow out the seat of your jeans? Spill red wine on your favorite shirt? Don't throw them away! 

  • For starters, blown out jeans can totally be repaired to look even better than before; check out the Denim Repair Lab from MeWe Clothing Brand.

  • As for everything else:

  • Goodwill and Salvation Army are well practiced at finding for-profit markets for textiles that aren’t in good enough condition to sell in-store, so even sending them your stained t-shirts will help their cause (and if the clothing is damaged, hopefully they won’t be dumping it in developing countries for undervalued resale? I’m unclear on this).

  • Various companies and industries also offer recycling on specific items: 

    • DENIM — Cotton, Inc. (makers of the “the fabric of our lives” jinglehas a non-profit denim-recycling organization called Blue Jeans Go Green. Many corporate partners who collect denim (Madewell, J.Crew, and Neiman Marcus to name a few) are doing so in partnership with this organization, and they often offer a discount on new denim products when you recycle your old ones. 

    • ATHLETIC SHOES — Nike Grind takes athletic shoes from all brands and turns them into new products, like more shoes, apparel, and rubber track surfacing. 

    • CARPETS — Carpets are notoriously difficult to recycle, but Carpet America Recovery Effort is trying to change that! New participating locations are opening up around the country each year.