Dear Sustainability Sam,
I was planning to attend the Tangletown textile event last spring, and then a pandemic hit. Does Tangletown have any new information or thoughts on textile recycling and donation in Minneapolis and are there plans for a future event on this topic?
Thank you for checking back in!
As you probably remember, the City and Hennepin County have stopped collecting textiles for recycling due to market uncertainty. With the rise of fast, cheap fashion and home textiles, demand for resale and recycling of lower quality used textiles has dropped, especially if torn or soiled. The company Hennepin County was contracting with for textile recycling could not guarantee that textiles were actually being recycled, and not just landfilled or burned, once they landed overseas. The decision was covered in this MinnPost article from December 2019.
This continues to be a timely conversation as many people are spending more time at home, especially during the stay-at-home order, than they used to. Many of us have used some of this time to do a much needed cleaning out of our closets and storage rooms, and have ended up with bags of clothing and textiles that either need to be donated, repaired, upcycled, or—if no longer usable— disposed of.
Options for disposing of unusable clothing and textiles are landfill, incineration (that’s what we do with household trash in Minneapolis), upcycling, or recycling. However, it is hard to find viable options for textile recycling. I mentioned earlier that lower quality textiles—thinner, less durable fabrics, less natural fibers, more fabrics made up of mixed fibers—make recycling difficult. In addition, the sheer quantity of textile waste being generated in the U.S. is an issue. Below is a summary table of textile waste generation from 1960-2017 from the EPA’s facts and figures on textiles in municipal solid waste (MSW) webpage. You can see that in 2017, textile waste generated in the U.S. had grown 860% since 1960, most of which was landfilled, whereas the U.S. population only grew 80% during this same time (Source: U.S. Census Bureau).
We have had to postpone our in-person event, but we are excited to be offering a series of virtual events this fall and winter. Our virtual events kick off with The True Cost film screening and panel discussion on Thursday, October 22, followed by Buying and Donating Clothing With A Conscious on Saturday, November 21. Textile recycling is important, but as these events will highlight, current availability cannot keep up with current demand and consumption rates in the U.S. The UN considers fashion as one of the biggest polluting industries in the world, therefore reducing the amount of clothing and textiles we dispose of in the first place is important. Buying less, buying sustainably-made quality items that last and can be repaired, renting for special occasions, donating responsibly, swapping, and buying secondhand are actions we can all take to help reduce our growing clothing and textile waste problem. And, as The True Cost film and panelists will discuss, the production of and disposal of clothing and textiles is not only a pollution and climate change issue, but is a social and environmental justice issue.
Thank you for being thoughtful about clothing and textile consumption and we hope you will join us for our virtual education events!