How textile recycling gives new life to a torn shirt

Turns out clothes and blankets can keep you warm in more than one lifetime. That beloved sweatshirt that kept you warm all through college but now has holes and stains isn’t necessarily meant for the dumpster anymore. It can still keep you warm and cozy in its second life as an insulator.

Home insulation made from recycled textiles. (Photo by Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

“My house has it… textile insulation,” said Serge Lazarev, founder of Green tree textiles. “Fiberglass [insulation] is really bad. It’s horrible to touch or inhale and the textile insulation is really soft and nice – you can lay your face down and sleep on it.”

Larazev’s company takes the 80 pounds of unwanted clothes APE says American’s shed every year and gives back what it can to various charities and for-profits or organizations, about 40% of what comes in, and recycles the rest. He’s partnered with a company that turns used towels, stained shirts and ripped jeans into insulation for the home.

Rolls of natural cotton and recycled terracotta

Rolls of recycled fabric insulation ready for the ceilings and walls of a home. (Photo by James Keyser/Getty Images)

“Recently I saw this Home Depot insulation, textile insulation, Lazarev said of the increasingly common textile insulation. “It was a package that was ready to be placed in a blower and blown in walls and ceilings that needed to be insulated. . So that was exciting.”

“About 10 years ago I was a polluter. I operated gasoline, gas stations, mechanic shops, stuff like that,” Lazarev said. “[The President] was talking about how the government was going to invest in green jobs and green fields, and that really touched me. I was like, ‘You know, it’s time we started taking care of our planet because it can’t go on forever like this.'”

He looked into new business opportunities. Getting into solar power was prohibitively expensive, Lazarev said. Recycling bottles and cans was already a saturated market.


Americans dispose of more than 80 pounds of clothing and textiles a year, according to the EPA. (Photo by Alain BUU/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

“And then I came across an interesting statistic that said 85% of textiles weren’t picked up for recycling, and they went to the landfill and the light bulb went out,” he recalls. “So I made this 180 degree turn towards recycling.”


the APE reported that in 2018, Americans generated more than 17,000 tons of textile waste. More than 11,000 tonnes ended up in landfills, or 7.7% of waste landfilled. They estimated that only 13% of textiles are recycled.


Most unwanted textiles end up in landfills. The amount has been rising steadily since 1960. (Environmental Protection Agency)

He considered selling the textiles from his warehouse for rags, bedding, and mattress and pillow stuffing, but found that selling for insulation was more economical.

“It is very convenient to recycle into textile insulation because it no longer requires a separation process,” Lazarev said. “It could be cotton, a wool/cotton blend. It could be Velcro or jersey, or just a lot of different materials. Rather than separating something like 100% cotton, 100% wool, it’s very laborious, and we don’t have machines, All the labor or labor costs become unaffordable, really.”


Green Tree has approximately 100 staffed and unmanned donation bins in the New York metro area. (Green tree textiles)

Green Tree Textiles recently partnered with a shoe recycler.

“That’s one of the challenges we face in the recycling industry, it’s all the materials that go into a piece of clothing or a shoe…the little rings that hold the laces together, and they’re metal, and then it there’s plastic and leather,” Lazarev said. “Their recycling process usually takes place overseas. A company does it here…but you can only opt for a specific type of shoe. It’s complicated.”


Green Tree has about 100 bins at farmers markets, community centers and apartment buildings within a 100-mile radius of the Bronx, New York headquarters. The company has partnered with Down to earth markets to facilitate community giving.


Recycling bins for plastic, paper and glass are on every corner. Lazarev wants to see textile bins with them. (Lindsey Nicholson Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images/Getty Images)

“The whole thing about textile recycling is that it has to be convenient, just as convenient as recycling your bottles and cans. These containers are everywhere,” Lazarev said. “And so we try to bring it to the community. Whether it’s a community organization, a community center…Down to Earth Markets provides a platform. Anyone who wants to host or have bins with us , we’re open to having that conversation. Our service is free, our trash cans are free.”

Anyone can bring their tax-deductible donation of clothing, handbags, hats, shoes, bedding, and even curtains to one of their venues/bins. The 10 employees collect textiles and sort reusable goods from recyclables. Anything beyond its useful state or unclean in its present life goes to the next life, isolation.


Each truck deposits about 20 tonnes of waste in a landfill. (Michael Macor/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Green Tree Textiles keeps approximately 2.1 million pounds of textile waste out of landfills and incinerators annually in the New York region.

“There’s room to grow here,” Lazarev said as he crunched the numbers. “So in New York alone there are eight million people… and 640 million textiles [trash] annually.”

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