Column: Textile recycling — a small step with big environmental benefits | Opinion

Textiles are the sleeping giant of the recycling industry. Each year, Massachusetts residents and businesses throw away 230,000 tons of textiles, including clothing, shoes, handbags, rugs, curtains, linens and towels.

In fact, 95% of this material could be reused and recycled into a range of products. As a general rule, textiles and clothing in virtually any condition, whether torn or stained, can be donated and recycled.

It should be noted that Massachusetts will ban the disposal of textiles and mattresses starting November 2022. This means that these items can no longer be put in the trash and be landfilled or incinerated.

The good news is that Salem residents have many options for donating clothing and other textiles, from curbside pickup to numerous drop-off bins throughout the city.

Where do the donated textiles go?

About 48% of textiles are sold as second-hand clothing through charities such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army, which operate retail stores. Clothes and textiles that don’t sell are baled and sold to textile brokers, who export items to local entrepreneurs in Africa, where 95% of the population wear used clothes.

Another 20% is made into industrial wiping rags, which are sold to businesses such as auto repair shops and manufacturing plants.

The remaining 26% is sent to fiber converters where the textiles are broken down into their basic fiber components and made into products such as blankets, insulation, carpets and soundproofing materials.

Used textiles represent a large industrial segment in Massachusetts. More than 25 companies and non-profit organizations sort, reuse, “recycle” or convert used textiles into new products. The textile donation supports local charities that provide jobs and education for Massachusetts residents. Keeping textiles out of the trash can significantly reduce disposal costs for local governments and businesses.

Environmental impact of recycling

The apparel industry is currently facing enormous environmental challenges, including greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and the use of toxic chemicals. The garment industry produces about 1.025 gigatonnes of carbon emissions per year. The production of raw materials, such as knitting, weaving, dyeing and finishing, contributed 50% of emissions. The extraction of raw materials, the transformation of the material into yarn and the assembly of the final product generated the remaining 50% of emissions. Increased reuse and recycling of textiles can reduce the production of new garments.

Around 63% of textile fibres, such as nylon and polyester, come from petrochemicals. The remaining 37% is cotton, in which the reliance of current production methods on water and toxic pesticides is considered by many experts to be unsustainable. Consider that it takes a third of a pound of pesticide and 713 gallons of water to make a cotton t-shirt.

Salem Textile Recycling Options

  • Collection of textiles at the curb
  • Contact HELPSY to schedule a free pickup, at
  • Textile deposit bins
  • Saint-Pierre Church, 24, rue Saint-Pierre.
  • Baystate Textile bins are located outside of all public schools in Salem
  • Planet Aid trash cans are spread throughout Salem

Bruce Cohen is a member of SalemRecycles, the city’s volunteer recycling committee.