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5 things to do with textiles—other than trashing them

01/17/23  |  Rebecca Taplin

As of November 2022, it’s illegal to dispose of any textiles in the trash here in Massachusetts. You may have read the headlines or heard a neighbor complain about it (or perhaps you were the one complaining?). But what the heck are you supposed to do with your old socks and stained undershirts? They sure look like trash—why can’t you send them to the dump? The answer is logical, and we’re prepared to get you excited about giving your textiles new purpose after you’re done with them.

Does “textile” just mean “clothes?”

Nope. Textiles are more than clothing. Think footwear, belts, hats, handbags, throw rugs, drapes, towels, sheets and other linens (like tablecloths). In addition, it’s important to know that 95% of all textiles can be used again in some way, according to the Mass Department of Environmental Protection.

 

But this stuff is used! Nobody wants it, I’m sure.

Again, nope. In Massachusetts alone, there are 25 businesses and organizations founded on the idea of converting used textiles into new products. From “upcycling” an old pair of jeans into a jazzy set of handbags to breaking down T-shirts and creating shop rags, these places depend on your textiles. You are literally helping them stay in business by donating to them.

 

Your gently-used clothing can also be sorted, washed, and given new life as affordable clothing. Places like Savers, Goodwill, and Salvation Army resell your clothes at low prices, which increases access to quality clothing in Massachusetts. Or, if you’re looking to make a little money yourself, consider contacting a consignment shop. I love Raspberry Beret on Mass Ave in Cambridge myself. 

 

Other benefits

By donating your clothes to organizations, you’re helping to provide jobs and training to other Massachusetts residents. Textiles need to be sorted and people need to do the sorting. It’s as simple as that.

 

Massachusetts residents send about 230,000 tons of usable textiles every year to the dump (MA DEP). Not only are you supporting local organizations, people on a budget, and creating jobs, you’re saving room in our limited landfills and decreasing the cost of garbage collection. That’s a win-win-win-win situation in my book.

 

There are more environmental benefits of keeping textiles out of the dump than just decreasing landfill demand. Cotton is the crop that requires the most pesticides in the world; and polyester production creates nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas), and toxic chemicals. Reusing textiles helps lessen demand for these materials, which means fewer toxins in the world.

 

Okay, so what do I actually DO with my textiles?

 

  • Repurpose them yourself:  Cut T-shirts into rags, cover your backseat with an old blanket to keep the dog from ruining it, or if you’re handy with a sewing machine, turn a sweater into a pillow cover. If this strikes your fancy, get more ideas here.
  • Donate them to an animal shelter: Check your local animal shelter’s website for their needs, and you’re sure to find “blankets and towels” as one of their main items. Drop off a pile of cozy material so a stressed-out animal has a place to rest.
  • Drop them in a bin that collects textiles. Many schools, libraries, and city yards have these big bins for anyone to use. Just be sure to bag up the textiles and put them inside the bins, and don’t leave them out for the weather to make them unusable.
  • Give them to an organization that collects textiles. Beyond the Bin has a nifty tool that will show you textile dropoff locations; just type in your ZIP code and they’ll list and map the organizations and companies that want your stinky socks. Oh, and they’ll also show you where you can drop off any other item you might be thinking of sending to the dump, from mattresses to propane tanks!
  • Schedule a free textile pickup. Check here to see if you can schedule one from Simple Recycling. It just took me 45 seconds to schedule one in Melrose.

The MA DEP gives these resources as well: 

 

There must be some exceptions. 

In all of my research, I’ve found that the only textiles you can throw away are wet or moldy items and items contaminated with oil or hazardous substances. Everything else–stained or ripped, old or out of fashion–can be reused in some way.

 

If you have any questions or need more resources, please reach out to us. We're here to help.

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