Yes, You Should Be Recycling That Old Tablecloth and Your Gross, Stained Shirt

New York's 'Clothes the Loop' program hopes to keep Empire State residents from chucking 1.4 billion pounds of textiles in landfills.

(Photo: Jamie Grill/Getty Images)

Nov 18, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Ideally your used batteries, glass containers, and newspapers are already making it to the recycling bin. But what are you doing with your old shirts, sheets, and tablecloths? If you’re anything like the average New York resident, you throw 70 pounds of used textiles in the garbage every year. Now a campaign from the New York State Association of Reduction, Reuse and Recycling and the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association hopes to keep a cumulative 1.4 billion pounds of clothing and textiles from ending up in landfills.

Officials from those organizations launched the program “Clothes the Loop” last Saturday on America Recycles Day. Although most folks probably think a shirt needs to be free from stains and a pair of pants needs to have a working zipper to be donated, that’s not the case.

"Torn, worn, ripped, stained items, pieces of fabric, unmatched socks—they all can be donated," said Dan Rain, the chairman of the New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse and Recycling, told the Albany Times Union.

Through the program, New Yorkers can take their used textiles and worn-out towels and bedsheets to drop-off bins that can be located through a searchable database. From there, the program’s officials estimate that after sorting, only 5 percent of donated items will be too polluted with chemicals or too mildewed for use. Forty percent of the rest of the clothing will be forwarded to charitable organizations here in the United States and abroad that will distribute items to people in need. Another 30 percent will be turned into cleaning cloths, and 25 percent will be recycled into fibers that can, among other things, be used to insulate homes.

Don't live in New York state? The idea seems like one that should be expanded coast to coast, so do a little digging locally and figure out how to recycle that old, stained shirt that's taking up space in the back of your closet. After all, unless it's doused in toxic mold or motor oil, it sure sounds like it can be put to good use.