Closing the Loop -- Rethinking Reuse for a Circular Economy

Captain Planet helped us all realize the power of those blue bins and the need to make the simple decision to recycle. And over the last few decades, we've taken great strides to make recycling of paper, bottles and cans second nature in many communities. But what about other items that also are a big part of our daily lives and deserve similar attention?

Take clothing, for example. How often do we think about recycling clothes we no longer want or need? Sure, some of us donate clothes or pass them along to a friend or family member, but more often than not used clothing is sent to a landfill. In fact, the U.S. singlehandedly generates 25 billion pounds of textiles every year and 85 percent of it ends up piled high in landfills. By 2019, textile waste is projected to reach more than 35 billion pounds unless we do something about it. Like paper, bottles and cans, clothing can be recycled. But there's another, even better, way to reduce the environmental impact of clothing: reuse.

What's the impact of buying a new t-shirt? Consider that producing the average cotton t-shirt uses 700 gallons of water. Or that the average U.S. citizen will throw away 81 pounds of clothing this year, 95 percent of which could have been reused or recycled. The environmental impact is simply staggering. But if we approach consumption differently and emphasize not only recycling but reuse, we can make a major impact and transition from the linear model of taking, making and disposing, toward a more efficient circular model of reusing, recycling and reducing. The circular model allows us to participate in an economic system that values reuse and is restorative and regenerative in nature.

Reuse allows us to divert waste from landfills and conserve our finite natural resources. Many companies and not-for-profit organizations worldwide already are helping to divert materials from landfills and get items re-sold and reused. The reuse industry handles 3.8 billion pounds of textiles annually. For Savers, just last year we kept nearly 650 million pounds of reusable items out of North American landfills. This and the work others are doing is a start. But of the 15 million tons of textiles trashed every year, only 2 million are recovered through reuse or recycling.

Beyond its obvious environmental impact, reuse is an industry that benefits local communities and our economy. By extending the life cycle of secondhand clothing, the reuse industry employs nearly 100,000 workers and creates $1 billion in wages in the U.S. alone. These benefits will only continue to increase as we begin to realize the untapped economic potential of striving toward zero waste. The global population is forecast to reach 9 billion people by 2030, creating an estimated trillion-dollar economic opportunity for the circular economy. Our current path is unsustainable and it's time to start realizing the benefits of innovation, job creation and economic development that the circular economy can help create. The best way to move towards zero waste is for communities and companies to transition their consumption and disposal habits towards reuse - closing the loop in the linear economy.

Landfills shouldn't be laundry piles. Reuse, along with recycling and more thoughtful consumption, will help us minimize the enormous impact the clothes we wear have on the environment.

It's time to rethink reuse.