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Although textiles are not banned from Wisconsin landfills, they are items that in many cases can easily be reused and recycled.  Majority of textile waste comes from household sources; mostly discarded clothing,  but also can includes carpets, tires, footwear, and nondurable goods such as sheets and towels.  Average lifetime of any clothing is deemed to be for about 3 years, after which, they are thrown away as old clothes. Sometimes even ‘not so worn garments’ are also discarded as they become unfashionable, or undesirable. Most recovered household textiles are sold or donated. The remaining ones go to either a textile recovery facility or the landfill.  Click here to see the Clothing Life Cycle.

Textile waste also arise during yarn and fabric manufacturing, apparel-making processes and from the retail industry. They are the post-industrial waste. Apart from these textile wastes other wastes such as PET bottles etc. are also used for recycling polyester fiber.

Curbside collection is not common for textiles in the United States.  Options for unwanted textiles are:

  • Resale Donate unwanted clothes to a charitable organization.  After collection of the textiles, workers sort and separate collected textiles by quality, and as well as shoes which can be reused.  Many items that are not able to be put on the floor will go to people in need.

  • Sell clothes to a consignment shop and make some money.

  • Conversion to Rags Damaged textiles are sorted out to make industrial wiping cloths and other items.

  • Recycling Clothing fabric generally consists of composites of cotton (biodegradable material) and synthetic plastics. The textile’s composition will affect its durability and method of recycling.


Fiber reclamation mills grade incoming material into type and color. The color sorting means no re-dying has to take place, saving energy and pollutants. The textiles are shredded into “shoddy” fibers and blended with other selected fibers, depending on the intended end use of the recycled yarn. The blended mixture is carded to clean and mix the fibers and spun ready for weaving or knitting. The fibers can also be compressed for mattress production. Textiles sent to the flocking industry are shredded to make filling material for car insulation, roofing felts, loudspeaker cones, panel linings and furniture padding.

For specialized polyester based materials the recycling process is significantly different. The first step is to remove the buttons and zippers then to cut the garments into small pieces. The shredded fabric is then granulated and formed into small pellets. The pellets are broken down polymerized and turned into polyester chips. The chips are melted and spun into new filament fiber used to make new polyester fabrics.

Some companies are creating new pieces of clothing from scraps of old clothes. By combining and making new additions, the eclectic garments are marketed as a type of style.

Textile Recycling Industry- The Figures 
More than 500 textile recycling companies are engaged in operating the stream of used textiles in the United States. The textile recycling industry employs approximately 10,000 semi-skilled workers at the primary processing level and creates an additional 7,000 jobs at the final processing stage. Primary and secondary processors account for annual gross sales of $400 million and $300 million, respectively.

  • An estimated 11.9 million tons of textiles were generated in 2007. It equates to 4.7 % of total municipal solid waste (MSW) generation.

  • As per the Council for Textile Recycling, textile recycling industry prevents 2.5 billion pounds of post consumer textile product waste from going into the solid waste stream annually.

  • This 2.5 billion pounds of post consumer textile waste represents 10 pounds per person in the United States.

  • About 500 million pounds of textiles collected are used by the collecting agency. The balance is sold to textile recyclers, including used clothing dealers and exporters, wiping rag graders, and fiber recyclers.

  • Most textile recycling firms are small, family-owned businesses. Majority of them employ around 35 to 50 workers, many of whom are semi-skilled or marginally employable workers.


According to the Council for Textile Recycling, nearly half of discarded textiles are given to charities, who either give away clothes or sell them at discounted prices in secondhand stores. Approximately 61% of the clothes recovered for second-hand use are exported to other countries. Used textiles have a relatively stable and high price.



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