Creating new opportunities with castoffs
By Pamela Henman
Clothes are a necessity, an outlet for self-expression, and now more than ever, easier to access. We buy, we wear, we decide it’s out of style or no longer fits — but then what?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent Materials, Waste, and Recycling report, discarded clothes are the primary source of textiles collected in municipal solid waste. In 2014, landfills received 10.4 million tons of textiles as municipal solid waste, representing nearly 8 percent of all waste landfilled. The amount of water and energy needed to produce clothing is staggering. According to the World Wildlife Federation, it can take over 700 gallons of water to produce the cotton needed to make just one t-shirt.
The environmental impacts are clear, but it is possible for us to break the clothing and textile cycle of “take, make, waste” to benefit both the environment and our community.
The Initiative for Affordable Housing (IAH) helps consumers rethink the lifecycle of what’s in our closet, while also supporting vulnerable families. Founded in 1990, IAH works to end poverty and find secure housing for homeless and low-income families in metro Atlanta. IAH accomplishes its mission through three programs: providing homeless services, housing assistance, and employment opportunities through re:Loom.
re:Loom provides paid training, work, and leadership opportunities to adults struggling with unemployment. re:Loom hires and trains weavers who are low-income or homeless, and the weavers create a wide range of handmade items made from donated textiles like jackets, t-shirts, dresses, pillowcases, and more. re:loom’s work results in rugs, bags, dog leashes, hammocks, and more, all which live beyond the landfill.
According to IAH and re:Loom Executive Director Lisa Wise, by reusing donated fabric re:Loom diverts over two tons of textiles from landfills each month — all while providing valuable economic and self-sufficiency opportunities within the community.
Companies like Charity Recycling Service (CRS) help nonprofits, schools, and other corporations turn discards into dollars.
Operating in 15 states, each year CRS collects, buys, and helps transport on behalf of its partners more than 20 million pounds of recyclable and re-useable materials, including clothing and textiles. Globally, CRS’ model creates jobs, provides affordable clothing, protects the environment — and helps support local economies.
Working with CRS, the Gwinnett County Public School District received collection bins at no cost, and earned money for collected materials. The school district collected 200,000 pounds of clothing, textiles, and other recyclable goods, earning $20,000 in the process.
We’ve embraced recycling plastics and paper, and can do the same for textiles and clothing as well. Join Southface’s Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable (SART) on Friday, May 4 for an engaging forum discussing the social and environmental implications of textile production, and the importance of transparent, ethical, and sustainable economies in apparel design and manufacturing.
SART panel participants include re:Loom, Charity Recycling Service, Patagonia, and Alternative Apparel. For more details and registration, click here.