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Recycling Clothes Benefits Environment, Textile Industry, Developing Countries

MU researcher advises consumers concerning ways to ensure clothing is reused or recycled.

Oct. 04, 2010

Story Contact(s):
Nathan Hurst, hurstn@missouri.edu, 573-882-6217

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­­­– We are often reminded of the importance of recycling our cans and bottles, but what about our clothes? Jana Hawley, professor and department chair of the department of Textile and Apparel Management in the University of Missouri College of Human Environmental Sciences, has been working to increase sustainability in the textile industry.

Jana Hawley, professor and department chair of the department of Textile and Apparel Management in the University of Missouri College of Human Environmental Sciences, has been working to increase sustainability in the textile industry.

Jana Hawley, professor and department chair of the department of Textile and Apparel Management in the University of Missouri College of Human Environmental Sciences, has been working to increase sustainability in the textile industry.

Textiles are nearly 100 percent recyclable, yet thousands of pounds of textile materials wind up in landfills each year. Products like denim can be sorted and re-fabricated for many different uses, including insulation for houses or stuffing for products like mattresses. Common items like the carpet in the trunk of cars are often made of recycled textile fibers.

Hawley suggests taking old clothes to clothing charities like Goodwill or Salvation Army instead of throwing them away. After they sort through the clothing, whatever the charity cannot resell to another consumer can be sold to a rag dealer. Rag dealers will take the clothing and send it to various markets including disaster relief efforts and Third World countries.

“Charities can sell the material to rag dealers by the pound,” Hawley said. “It just isn’t cost efficient for rag dealers to take small amounts of clothing from consumers, so charities are the best textile recycling gateway.”

In developing countries, young entrepreneurs find a lot of uses for salvaged textile materials. Many people in these places scavenge in the trash for materials that they can turn into high quality goods such as handbags which they can sell for a decent price. Hawley says European countries have found ways to be more responsible when manufacturing clothes.

“Places like Europe do not have the same textile sustainability problems that the U.S. does,” Hawley said. “Europe tends to sort their clothing more efficiently, but they generally have less bulk clothing to deal with.”

Hawley says that the problem for the American textile industry is the type of clothes bought and sold. Many American consumers buy clothes that are considered “fast fashion,” Hawley said. These clothes are created quickly and cheaply but lack durability. “Slow fashion” is clothing that is well-made and produced locally and will last longer. Unfortunately, the “slow fashion” movement is slow to gain popularity due to high labor costs and the price of the clothes themselves.

Hawley has been a published expert on textile recycling for more than a decade. Her research focuses on the process of recycling textiles and how consumers can make the textile industry more sustainable.

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