Have you ever thought about how you’ve disposed of your ripped clothing or banged up pairs of shoes during your lifetime? Did you recycle it? Did you throw it out? Did you do something less conventional?
If you chose to toss out those unusable textiles instead of recycling them, they are more than likely in a landfill right now. What you may not be thinking about is what they are doing in that landfill. Don’t worry, your clothes aren’t coming to life. But they are doing something equally terrifying: polluting our air with CO2 and other harmful emissions.
How much CO2 can an old pair of jeans or a T-shirt really make? According to a Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) study done by the EPA in 2011, 2 million tons of textiles are recycled annually, which is the equivalent of removing 1 million cars from the road. That’s admittedly a little vague, so let’s take it a step further.
According to an EPA emissions fact sheet, passenger cars generate 9,737.44 pounds of CO2 on average every year. Using this information, recycling 2 million tons of textiles removed around 4.4 million tons of CO2 emissions.
That’s an astronomical amount of emissions removed from the atmosphere just from recycling textiles.
Now consider this: those 2 million tons of textiles recycled were from 13 million tons of textiles thrown out. While some recycled items are harder to reuse, around 95 percent of textiles can be reused as second-hand clothing or repurposed for new items. That means around 21.5 million tons of CO2 could have been prevented from entering the atmosphere if people just recycled their unwanted clothes and shoes!
If you’re now regretting throwing out that Christmas sweater or winter jacket with a hole in it, you might not have done as much damage as you think depending on the fabric used in your former clothing.
Natural fabrics, such as cotton and wool, will eventually be degraded by micro-organisms and release methane and CO2 contained inside while composting the soil around it, closing its cycle.
Synthetic fibers, such as Polypropylene, Polyester, acrylic and Nylon, do not decompose and release heavy metals and additives into the soil and groundwater. They cause heavy pollution if incinerated; in the case of polyethylene, one ton of burnt material equals three tons of CO2 emissions. So if you have to toss out any of your clothes for any reason, at least make sure it’s bio-degradable.
Emissions from textiles are a serious problem with a simple solution. By recycling our unwanted textiles, we can lower the 251 million tons of garbage the U.S. produces every year in one of the simplest ways possible so we can all breathe a little easier.