Have you been to a landfill lately?

Written by Manager in Training Jon Benson

Globalization has made it possible to produce clothing at increasingly lower prices, prices so low that many consumers consider this clothing to be disposable. Some call it "fast fashion," the clothing equivalent of fast food. The average American purchases 70 pounds of textiles a year and roughly 85% of those get thrown away. The question is, where do we discard these textiles? The unfortunate answer is that they get thrown into local landfills where they make up about 4% of the weight and 8% of the volume of all municipal solid waste in the United States.

Manager in Training (MIT) Marcus Gorman, of the Columbus, OH Planet Aid branch, recently visited a landfill to see where all the trash goes. His experience is one he will not soon forget. Mr. Gorman said, "The first thing I noticed was the overwhelming smell. It was literally the most awful odor I have ever encountered. Meanwhile, bulldozers continuously smashed and pushed the trash into a centralized area. As this was happening, truck after truck after truck drove up the hill to dump the trash they had collected." Mr. Gorman went on to say, "There was nothing that could have prepared me for what I was to see on my first visit to a landfill. I knew that was where my trash went every Thursday, but it was more of an "˜out of sight out of mind' attitude. I'm glad I visited the landfill and since said visit, I've encouraged others to see for themselves."

I would also be willing to bet that the majority of us have never visited a landfill, and therefore have never seen where all of our waste is sent. That means that for every 50,000 US residents, governments have to pay (with local tax dollars) for the handling and disposal of some 3,000 tons of textiles every year. The shame of such waste is that textiles are so easy to recycle or otherwise find new uses for.

99% of used textiles are recyclable. Textile and clothing recycling can give old clothes, linens, and other textiles a second life. That not only reduces the amount of waste going into landfills, it also provides some much needed assistance to underdeveloped nations. Almost half of all post-consumer textile waste that is recovered is recycled to be used as second hand clothing. It is through the diligent recycling efforts of the Textile and Clothing Industry, that some of the world's poorest nations are able to clothe their people. The recovery of textiles and clothing for recycling provide both environmental and economic benefits.

  • Clothing & textile recycling reduces the need for landfill space
  • Clothing & textile recycling reduces pressure on virgin resources
  • Clothing & textile recycling encourages the development of additional markets.
  • Clothing & textile recycling results in less pollution and energy savings

These are some important things to think about as we progress further down this road as a "throw away" society. It's a small step, but if we just think about alternative ways to utilize our resources and not just throw them away, it can be a step in the right direction. According to stats published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the number of landfills in the U.S. has dropped from almost 8,000 in 1988 to less than 1,800 in 2006. Granted, this is definitely a step in the right direction, but as the number of landfills has decreased, the actual size of those existing landfills have become larger. The EPA, as well as other "green" conscious agencies, businesses, and people are continuing the search for solutions to this growing problem. According to the World Census, as of August 5, 2010, the world population was 6,860,504,443 people. With these numbers continuing to increase, inevitably, so will the amount of garbage.

References Cited

  1. www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/textiles.htm
  2. www.wasteonline.org.uk/resources/InformationSheets/Textiles/htm
  3. www.livestrong.com/article/174810-facts-about-recycling-textiles/
  4. www.postal2020.com/zlandfills.htm
  5. www.census.gov