“New” doesn’t always mean “better” – and when it comes to clothing, “new” can mean harsh on our planet.
For many of us, Spring Cleaning rituals include getting rid of those old clothes – they’re either too small or too big, out of style, or worn out. Some of us don’t have the option to hand them down to a friend or family member, so we either: drop them off at Goodwill or the Salvation Army, or toss them in the trash. The latter, unfortunately, is a big hazard to Planet Earth.
Most Americans don’t realize that when they toss out their old clothes, they introduce waste to the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American throws 54 pounds of clothing and shoes into the trash each year. That adds up to about nine million tons of wearables that are sent into the waste collections.
We know the ugly truth: we are a consumerist society. The more clothing that is purchased, the more that must be produced – which leads to more clothing being tossed out, and as a result, more environmental impact. For example, the production of cotton with cotton farming destroys the farms and pollutes waterways. Just in the United States alone, “22.5% of all agricultural insecticides and 10% percent of all pesticides used each year go into cotton farming,” according to MAC Recycling.* Those chemicals eventually are put into the environment and become harmful to the planet.
Dyes, polyesters and nylon – along with cotton – are also very damaging; they are “a byproduct of oil refining, which increases our need and reliance on oil and increases harmful pollution.” *
By recycling more clothing and purchasing new items less often, we would also be conserving the energy that’s needed in the manufacturing process. Less energy used means less needs to be generated, resulting in a smaller carbon footprint and less greenhouse gases and emissions. Americans only buy ten pounds of recycled clothes annually.** Depending on what a person does to get rid of old clothes, this could end up being particularly dangerous to the environment in the long run. This situation can be helped, though. All it takes is a little awareness, simple contributions, patience and creativity.
Organizations like Planet Aid have installed bins in public places for people to drop off old clothing and shoes that are then sold to poorer parts of the world. See the chart below for some nearby locations, or go to PlanetAid.org/find-a-bin to type in your zip code and locate one.
4646 S. Dort Hwy., Flint 48507
Food Plus Party Store
1052 E. Maple Rd., Flint 48507
1960 W. Hemphill Rd., Flint 48507
5378 Fenton Rd. Flint 48507
A Plate Above
4010 S. Dort Hwy., Burton 48507
In Genesee County, there are many opportunities for residents to recycle clothing:
- Resale stores (Goodwill, Salvation Army) will not sell defective clothes or shoes, but they will offload them to textile recyclers. According to the City of Flint Department of Public Works, Genesee County resale stores are great about working with any initiative that supports used goods.
- Goodwill will sell clean, unblemished products; damaged clothes become rags, and clothes that don’t sell are shipped to countries in need. There are a few area locations that also accept electronic waste (e.g. all working/non-working household electronics, including appliances, cell phones, computers, but not TVs).
- Salvation Army will also not sell defective clothes or shoes, but will resell them to textile “de-manufacturers.” There are a few locations that also accept electronic waste.
- Home Depot, and some other hardware stores, take household batteries (i.e. AAA, AA, hearing aid, watch and calculator batteries).
- Home Depot and Lowes accept compact fluorescent light bulbs for free. Look for the recycling kiosk near the Customer Service desk.
- Catholic Charities is always accepting gently used clothing. Through their Community Closet Program, you can donate clothing and household items, which are then distributed to individuals and families that need them. Additionally, through their Work Ready Program, they provide clothing for people to wear to job interviews. You can drop off clothing at 517 E. Fifth Ave. in Flint, or call 810.265.7025 with questions.
- Mott Community College, UM-Flint, Kettering University and Baker College-Flint are participating in a recycling challenge in preparation for Earth Day. This year, the challenge consists of helping with the water bottle recycling program. Contact Brandon Eggleston at 810.766.6763 for more information.
- MCC has various programs through the GRIT Club that recycle t-shirts by making them into grocery bags, as well as making jewelry from pop bottle tops to sell for fundraisers. Contact Rebecca Gale-Gonzalez at 810.762.0544 for more information.
- Through MCC’s Business Department, a program called Ellen’s Closet provides individuals with a free resource for clothing to wear for job interviews.
- A Senior care center in Linden, the Loose Center, uses yarn made out of recycled plastic – called “plarn” – to make items for those in need.
As a courtesy, please be sure to call these organizations and businesses first to make sure that they do take certain objects for recycling. You can also check out www.gcmpc.org/environmental.
Tips for City of Flint Residents:
- Curbside recycling is available and free to all Flint residents.
- Residents MUST register to receive a blue recycling bin.
- To have a blue bin delivered to your home, call Republic Services at 800.438.0966.
- Residents may also register and pick up a blue recycling bin at the Keep Genesee County Beautiful office by calling 810.767.9696.
- Each resident is given one blue recycling bin; however, you can use additional containers, tubs, see-through bags, or 32-gal. or smaller trash containers.
- There is no need to separate your recycling.
If you are interested in learning more about the future of resource recovery, mark your calendar for the Governor’s Recycling Summit Annual Conference. Hosted by the Michigan Recycling Coalition, this conference is the largest recycling and organics conference and exhibition in Michigan. The event is May 3-5 at Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, MI.
- Bottles /containers with a # symbol on the bottom (1,2,4,5,7 are accepted)
- Small household plastics no larger than a laundry basket
- Lids are okay
- Labels are okay
- NO plastic bags
- Office paper
- Junk mail
- Paper bags
- Cardboard (flatten or cut in pieces)
- Paperboard boxes (cereal, snack, soda, tissue boxes, rolls, etc.)
- Phone books
- Pizza boxes
- Food & beverage bottles and jars only
- Colored & clear
- Labels are okay
What is NOT okay to recycle:
- Plastic bags (ask stores if they take them: Kohl’s, Meijer, Kroger, etc.)
- Plastic CD cases
- VHS/VCR tapes or other electronic waste
- Medical or hazardous waste
- Food or yard waste
- Paint, pesticides, or oil (You can drop off cans of used latex paint at the Genesee County Habitat for Humanity)
- Window panes or mirrors
- Ceramics or glass dishware
- Waxed paper, liners, or boxes
- Fabrics or clothing
What is okay to recycle:
- Aluminum, steel, tin
- Food cans, lids, cookware
- Labels are okay
- Flatten items to save space in your bin.
* MAC Recycling, “Why Recycle Clothes.”
** Earth 911, “Tips for Recycling Clothes”
***City of Flint, Department of Public Works, Keep Genesee County Beautiful, and Genesee County Metropolitan Planning Commission