This ar­ti­cle is part of HuffPost’s “Reclaim” cam­paign, an on­go­ing project spot­light­ing the world’s waste cri­sis and how we can be­gin to solve it.

Got old clothes you’re plan­ning to trash? You have lots of com­pa­ny. In 2013 alone, Americans dis­card­ed 15.1 mil­lion tons of cloth­ing and oth­er tex­tiles, and 85 per­cent of that wound up in land­fills.

That’s a bad thing, and not just be­cause your old clothes could have been reused or re­cy­cled rather than be­ing stuck in the ground. And not just be­cause there are bet­ter us­es for the land that land­fills oc­cu­py ― or be­cause trans­port­ing tex­tile waste to land­fills is so cost­ly.

You see, all those bag­gy trousers and stained shirts in land­fills don’t just lie there for­ev­er. They de­com­pose. As they do, they re­lease land­fill gas, a tox­ic brew of air pol­lu­tants that in­cludes the green­house gas­es car­bon diox­ide and methane.


There are about 1,200 mu­nic­i­pal sol­id waste land­fills in the United States, Jon Powell, a doc­tor­al stu­dent in chem­i­cal and en­vi­ron­men­tal en­gi­neer­ing at Yale University and an ex­pert on land­fills, told The Huffington Post. About 900 of these have vac­u­um sys­tems that col­lect land­fill gas for burn­ing or to pro­duce elec­tric­i­ty.

But a lot of land­fill gas is sim­ply vent­ed in­to the at­mos­phere. In fact, land­fills are the third-largest source of methane emis­sions in the U.S., ac­cord­ing to the Environmental Protection Agency. Methane is known to be 28 times more ef­fi­cient than car­bon diox­ide at trap­ping heat, Powell said. That means it pos­es a huge glob­al warm­ing prob­lem.

What’s the take­away? Even if you dri­ve a hy­brid car and eat on­ly sus­tain­ably pro­duced food, if your cast-off clothes are molder­ing away in a land­fill some­where, your con­tri­bu­tion to glob­al warm­ing and oth­er en­vi­ron­men­tal ills is big­ger than you might re­al­ize.

Fortunately, the rules for keep­ing your old clothes out of land­fills are sim­ple enough.

“Reuse and re­pair cloth­ing to the ex­tent pos­si­ble,” Dr. Morton Barlaz, pro­fes­sor of civ­il, con­struc­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal en­gi­neer­ing at North Carolina State University and an­oth­er land­fill ex­pert, told HuffPost in an email. “When no longer us­able and not ap­pro­pri­ate to give away, use for rags or do­nate to a thrift store.”

Goodwill and oth­er char­i­ties that ac­cept cloth­ing do­na­tions will take just about every item no mat­ter how worn, torn or stained. That in­cludes un­der­gar­ments, so try not to let em­bar­rass­ment get in your way.

“No one is go­ing to say, ‘Hey, look, it’s Marsha’s bra,’” Matt Riggs, out­reach co­or­di­na­tor for a sol­id waste man­age­ment dis­trict in Kansas City, Missouri, told The Kansas City Star.

Another op­tion is to check to see whether there’s a textile-recycling pro­gram in your area.

Many cities, towns, ap­par­el and footwear re­tail­ers now col­lect and re­cy­cle post-consumer tex­tiles, Eric Lubin, CEO of a tex­tile re­cy­cling firm in Clifton, New Jersey, told HuffPost in an email. Eileen Fisher, H&M, The North Face and Patagonia are among the com­pa­nies with some sort of re­cy­cling pro­gram.

If that’s not enough mo­ti­va­tion for you to do all you can to keep clothes out of land­fills, con­sid­er this: EPA sta­tis­tics sug­gest that even mod­est re­duc­tions in the amount of tex­tile waste that winds up in land­fills could bring a ma­jor ben­e­fit to the en­vi­ron­ment.

In 2013, Americans re­cy­cled some 2.3 mil­lion tons of tex­tile waste. That brought a re­duc­tion in green­house gas­es equiv­a­lent to tak­ing 1.2 mil­lion cars off the road for an en­tire year.

The original post can be read here.