As September approaches and more than 140,000 students throughout Rhode Island prepare to head back to school, parents inevitably find themselves with an abundance of once loved, but now outgrown and outdated clothing. The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) is partnering with the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART) to educate Rhode Island residents on the importance of proper textile recycling, regardless of how worn, torn or damaged these items may be.
“With families throughout the state finishing up their back-to-school shopping preparing students for the year ahead, now is the perfect time to empty closets bursting with outworn and long forgotten clothing,” said Sarah Kite, director of recycling services for RIRRC. “We are aiming to reverse the common school of thought that only one’s ‘best’ discarded clothing can be recycled or reused. The truth is quite the opposite – as long as textiles are dry and odorless, they can be donated through a clothing collection bin anywhere in Rhode Island.”
This information may come as a shock to residents who are familiar with the terms “gently used” and “clothing and shoes ONLY” marked on Rhode Island’s clothing collection bins. Contrary to popular belief and previous advice, this is no longer the case in the textiles recycling market. Items that are stained, worn, torn or ripped can all be recycled and reused, as long as they are dry and free of odors. And the bins can accept far more than just used clothing. The most common textile items donated include: shirts, jeans, footwear, drapes, sheets, pillows, handbags, towels, belts and stuffed animals. Items that cannot be accepted: carpets, rugs, mattresses and contaminated textiles, such as oil rags.
Larry Groipen, the immediate past president of SMART, stressed the importance of proper textile recycling education at a recent Textile Reuse and Recycling Conference, hosted by the Northeast Recycling Council (NERC).
“Many believe that they are burdening collection organizations by donating these worn and damaged materials. The truth is, there is a rather elaborate, global infrastructure that supports the donation, repair, reuse and recycling of textile materials. If you donate your used materials through a collection bin, chances are they will have a second life, either here or abroad,” he said.
The textile industry has a 95 percent success rate in bringing donated textiles back to the market in one form or another. Roughly 45 percent of donated textiles are used for secondhand apparel, sold either in the United States or exported to a developing country. Another 30 percent of donations become wiping and polishing cloths; 20 percent is reprocessed into fibers for recycling; and only 5 percent of the materials are found to be unusable.
While nearly all textile materials that are donated find a way back to market, it is estimated that only 15 percent of textile materials are diverted from the waste stream for recycling purposes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average person throws away approximately 70 pounds of clothing each year.
In Rhode Island, textiles should never be placed in recycling bins due to the hazard they pose at the state’s Materials Recycling Facility. Donations can be made in any clothing collection bin throughout the state, or at one of the two Kiducation bins located at the Central Landfill at 65 Shun Pike in Johnston. A list of the Goodwill collection bins can be found on the RIRRC website at www.rirrc.org/reuse. View the entire list of what types of textiles can be recycled on the SMART website.
To learn more about proper textile recycling methods in Rhode Island or the Recycle Together RI program, visit www.RecycleTogetherRI.
org. To learn more about the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association, visit www.smartasn.org.