Textile manufacturing is the second largest polluting industry in the world after oil and gas. Pesticides and water used to grow cotton, toxics in dyes, plastic fibers that shed into waterways when washed, and energy-intensive production all contribute to the industry’s staggering environmental impacts. Worse, fast fashion is made possible by the exploitation of women around the world who are trapped in poverty.
Yet, each year, U.S. households throw away more than 13 million tons of textiles – including clothing, belts, footwear, and linens. That number will only climb, as fast fashion is projected to grow 63% by 2030.
Reusing and recycling textiles that are currently disposed will create jobs, reduce taxpayer and local government costs, and reduce environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions.
PSI advocates for “extended producer responsibility” (EPR) laws that require all textile producers to finance and manage the recycling of post-consumer textiles they sell. EPR programs create an organized system for cooperation and communication that is based on financial incentives and producer responsibility.
EPR systems work by creating a level playing field among producers so that all compete equally. At the same time, EPR lifts the burden of managing waste textiles from taxpayers, who are currently paying for disposal regardless of their personal textile consumption habits.
Although countless textile collectors and processors are clamoring for more material, less than 15% of used textiles are recycled. Voluntary recycling and reuse initiatives have had little impact on the waste problem. Emerging innovations that would enable companies to extract fibers from used textiles and turn recovered material into new products are far from being viable or scalable.
France, the only country in the world with an EPR law for textiles, has achieved a 35% recovery rate and aims to recover 50% of used textiles in 2019. Nearly 60% of the clothing, linens, and footware collected is reused, and less than 1% is sent to landfill.
How We’re Leading the Way
PSI advocates for EPR legislation. We are connecting with stakeholders in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to develop a consensus on the extent of the problem and common goals, barriers, and solutions to advance textiles recycling.
We have facilitated the development of effective EPR policy models for many hard-to-recycle products, from paint to mattresses. The success of our existing programs has sparked interest among our government members in the development of an EPR policy model for textiles.
We established the first standards for collection of used textiles by facilitating a multi-stakeholder working group in New York. The standards provide for common messaging, data sharing, and the highest, best possible use of recovered scrap textiles by both for-profit and non-profit collectors and processors.
PSI brings people together. We convened and facilitated a textiles summit at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. The event marked a turning point for textiles stewardship, bringing together for the first time more than 200 textile designers, brand owners, used clothing collectors, recyclers, and government officials to improve textiles sustainability throughout the supply chain.
How You Can Help
Contact PSI for support to develop and pass an EPR law for textiles in your state.
Donate or recycle the textiles you no longer want. All textiles can be donated as long as they’re clean, dry, and odorless. Check with your local solid waste agency for special textile recycling events.
Tailor and mend what is worn or torn. Buy only what you need, and consider purchasing vintage or second hand. Rent the latest fashions for special occasions instead of buying something you’ll only wear once.