As the CEO of a textile recycling company, I've been talking about the importance of textile reuse and recycling for the last 12 years. Every day my team and I work to spread the word about why it's important to keep clothing in the use stream.
While we're out improving access to textile recycling in communities across the country, we are sometimes confronted with the notion that thrift stores and charities already collect most unwanted clothing. The facts don't support that line of thinking: A whopping 13 million tons of textiles are discarded annually by Americans, but only a meager 15 percent is recovered for reuse and recycling -- wasting nearly 11 million tons each year. So naturally one of my main concerns, as a citizen and as a business leader, is how we can get more people to recycle.
To find out what the obstacles and motivations for textile recycling are, we conducted a national survey of about 1,450 people from around the country.
We figured that most people might not know the scope of the problem -- the average American consumes 81 pounds of textiles each year, 85 percent of which ends up in landfills. I was still surprised to find that almost 80 percent of respondents said they were not aware of the amount of textiles being discarded annually.
But I was shocked to find that 48 percent of respondents admitted that they had thrown clothes in the trash over the last year... some of them as many as 10 times! This confirms that we are still far from meeting people's needs when it comes to providing them with convenient ways to keep clothes in the use stream or recycle them.
Last month I wrote about banning textiles in landfills, which I see as the ultimate goal. The survey made it clear that people support recycling textiles; 77 perent of respondents want clothing and shoes to be included in their city's recycling program.
Our survey also confirmed what other surveys have previously shown, that a very important barrier to participation in recycling is convenience; a majority of respondents (64 percent) would not go more than five miles out of their way to drop off clothes and shoes. Eighty-four percent said that convenience was an important factor for them in deciding where to drop off their clothes. This might be why the neighborhood drop-box is such a well-used and popular option.
The vast majority, 91 percent of respondents, said that they would support the installation of more textile recycling drop-boxes in their neighborhoods. This means that people want organizations to make recycling super convenient at neighborhood locations that are accessible 24/7.
My takeaway is this: This April, during Earth Month, I will be making a bigger effort than ever to educate people around the country about the importance of textile recycling and why it's good for the planet and the economy. More importantly, if we want people to recycle clothes, governments, communities and organizations (both for- and not-for profit) will need to give the people what they demand: easy, convenient ways to get rid of reusable clothes and shoes.