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The Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART) lauded the city of San Francisco’s effort to add used clothing to its recycling program.

San Francisco officials said the program is the first of its kind to be sponsored by a major American city.

Containers labeled “SF Save Fashion” are being placed alongside existing recycling containers in more than 100 locations in major retail outlets throughout the city. Apparel, shoes, belts and household textiles will be collected and sorted by I:Collect which is also participating in the program. I:Collect is a subsidiary of SMART member company SOEX.

The materials will then be distributed to Goodwill, along with other charities and for-profit clothing recycling companies. The items will be re-used as clothing or will be re-manufactured into new products such as industrial wiping and polishing cloths, home insulation, carpet padding and stuffing for pet bedding among many other products.

San Francisco joins several other U.S. cities that partner with private industry to collect used clothing as part of their recycling programs. More than a dozen municipalities in New Jersey partner with SMART member company Trans-Americas Trading to recycle used clothing and household textiles. United Fiber, another SMART member, launched a curbside recycling program in 2012 in the town of Queen Creek, Arizona, just outside Phoenix. And, the city of St. Paul, Minnesota encourages residents to recycle their used clothing in its curbside collection program. Items must be clean and dry and placed in a plastic bag labeled “clothing and linens.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 13 million tons of solid municipal waste is generated annually that is exclusively clothing and other household textiles. Of this amount, 2 million tons – only 15.3 percent – is recycled.

An EPA report indicates that 2 million tons of textiles are currently recycled annually – the equivalent of removing 1 million cars from America’s highways. This is more than 5 times the impact of recycled yard trimmings (170 thousand cars removed); more than 4 times the impact of glass recycling (210 thousand cars removed); more than plastic recycling (640 thousand cars removed); and is nearly equal to the impact of aluminum recycling (1.3 million cars removed).

SMART estimates that 95 percent of all clothing and household textiles can be recycled or repurposed. “Only 5 percent of all textile materials are ultimately disposed of as trash because they are either wet or are contaminated with oil, paint or some other hazardous material,” said SMART president Lou Buty. “As long as the items are clean, even if they are stained or damaged, there is a recycling use for the material.”

Published in the April 2014 Edition of American Recycler News