Riches to rags: Recycling clothing

Oakhurst resident Janna Lewis models a wrap she created from discarded sweaters.
Oakhurst resident Janna Lewis models a wrap she created from discarded sweaters. Sandee Scott

If a seam in your favorite shirt unravels, do you sew it up or do you toss it?

What do you do with those clothes in your closet that don’t fit any more?

What becomes of your shoes when they’re worn out?

The average American throws away about 70 pounds of clothing, shoes and other household textiles each year. It’s estimated that only 15% of post-consumer textile waste is recycled, leaving 85% going to landfills, when almost all of it could be recycled. Reclaimed fiber can be used for car insulation, roofing felts, carpet and furniture padding, and industry rags. Polyester-based materials get turned into chips, which can be melted and spun into new filament fiber to make new polyester fabric.

“Hey, it doesn’t matter what I do, the problem is too big,” you may say. But if everyone thought their efforts were meaningless, then the outdoor clothing and gear company, Patagonia, wouldn’t have been able to recycle over 95 tons of clothing since 2005. Patagonia’s Worn Wear program gives customers trade-in credit for used Patagonia items. The clothing (or gear), cleaned and in good condition, is available for purchase online at wornwear.patagonia.com.

Nike places priority on minimizing the environmental impact of the manufacturing processes and their products. Nike strives to “ ... identify strategies to use less, use better and use again.” Their Reuse a Shoe program grinds up used athletic shoes (any brand) into materials that can be turned into cushioning pads, interlocking gym flooring tiles, playground surfacing and more. Drop off locations for old shoes are at Nike and Converse Factory Stores.

Clothes for the Cause (clothesforthecausefundraising.com) has kept nearly 18 million pounds of fabric out of landfills while putting thousands of dollars in the hands of nonprofit groups. Need a fundraiser for your group? Check them out.

USAgain, another textile recycling company, currently has collection sites in Merced and elsewhere, although one can inquire about setting up one locally by contacting them through usagain.com.

Partnering with AmVets and others, the business Donate Stuff (donatestuff.com) will take your unwanted clothing, jewelry, electronics and household items. Arrange for a prepaid shipping bag or schedule a pickup through their website.

Also, I came across a program started by middle school students in Southern California that collects outgrown athletic shoes and redistributes them to children who would otherwise not be able to acquire such shoes. The program Reuse Your Shoes could be replicated and perhaps make a great Senior Project.

Along with the above possibilities, consider the following alternatives:

Donate to area thrift stores.

Make rags or a rag rug.

Learn how to sew and do mending or needed alterations.

Create something new out of the old.

Become a quilter or donate to a quilter.

Take nicer items to consignment shops.

Donate to programs that serve foster children, low-income students, or welfare-to-work graduates.

Wherever and to whomever you are donating, pay attention to their criteria.

And don’t forget to shop in consignment and thrift stores. You’ll save money, come across great finds, and possibly contribute to a good cause.