Where can textiles be recycled? 

This article will explain the recycling prospects and possibilities of textile products. Other covered aspects will include:

  • What are textiles?
  • What is the environmental impact of textiles?
  • What is recycling and should it matter?
  • Are textiles biodegradable?
  • Can textiles be composted?
  • FAQs

Where can textiles be recycled?

Textiles can be recycled in the nearest recycling centres. If you do not plan to go that far, you can simply dispose of textile products in green-coloured dustbins as these dustbins are intended for recycled material. 

The recycling of textiles will ensure better waste and resource management. The pressure on raw materials will be reduced while the decreased use of non-renewable resources will also be guaranteed. 

Textiles may be either natural or non-natural. Natural textiles are made from natural sources. Examples include cotton or silk. 

Non-natural textiles are made in the labs. Examples include rayon or acrylic fabrics. While both types can be recycled, the environmental impact of non-natural textiles is greater. 

Other than that, non-natural textiles also are not biodegradable and can not be composted. It may take hundreds of years for non-natural textile products to degrade. 

What are textiles? (3 examples of synthetic textiles) 

Textiles can be defined as materials that are made of interlacing fibres. Textile products have been in the green light from the very start because man has been in need to cover his body since the very primal times. 

If we speak about today, the purpose of textiles is not just the covering of body parts or protection against cold or warmth, the purpose of textiles has reciprocated at countless levels. The textile industry is now a multi-billion dollar industry because people have associated stereotypes such as class or social status with that of textiles. 

When it comes to the decision of textiles, there are some aspects that can be considered to make the right choices of textile products. These factors may be: 

  • Style characteristics 
  • Utility 
  • Durability 
  • Performance 

The umbrella of textiles is so vast and diverse that it is impossible to assess it without the formation of categories or hierarchies. 

When it comes to the categories associated with textiles, there are two classes that are mostly referred to. These are: 

  • Natural textiles
  • Synthetic textiles

As the name suggests, natural textiles are made from natural fabric fibres. The textiles are extracted from natural sources such as plants or animals. Common examples of natural textiles include cotton, wool, silk, jute, et cetera. 

When it comes to natural textiles, cotton is regarded as the most commonly used and liked natural textile. It is made from cotton plants. The usage and applicability of cotton textile are so diverse that it is further classified into four types. 

Synthetic textiles are made from synthetic fibres. There is an increased association or proclivity of the use of fossil fuel derivatives when it comes to the production of synthetic textiles. 

Therefore, it is generally regarded that the environmental impact of synthetic textiles is greater than as compared to the environmental impact of natural textiles. 

Common examples of synthetic textiles include:

  • Rayon
  • Viscose 
  • Acrylic fabric 

What is the environmental impact of textiles?

This section will cover the environmental impact of both natural and synthetic textiles. As per the environmental impact of natural clothing, it is mostly assumed that natural clothing will have no impact on the environment. This assumption is far from the truth. 

That is because of a number of reasons. Firstly, natural textile is sourced from plants and animals. If unsustainable amounts of clothing are made, there will be unjust pressure put on the life forms.

This pressure may also be met with the use of harmful chemicals such as fertilisers and pesticides. 

Fertilisers and pesticides, may then, in turn, cause environmental degradation in the form of soil pollution and water pollution.

Life on land and life in water may also be severely affected by the use of agrochemicals and these effects may also reciprocate to humans as well. 

Further, the unsustained production of natural clothing may also stem from issues of land misuse, infertility, and an unbalanced proportion of resources. 

Another impact of natural textiles on the environment is that the production process involved in clothing making may include the use of harmful chemicals. 

These chemicals may present threats to both the workers present there and the environment at large. Consider the example of artificial dyes. 

Dyeing is an important step in clothing production. Most natural clothing is dyed and bleached to obtain the desired colours and make sure that no impurity remains. 

However, the dyeing process has a lot of negative impacts on the environment. The dyeing process usually involves the use of synthetic dyes which may leach into the soil and water bodies. 

Further, the environmental impact that is rendered by synthetic textiles is considered to be far greater than that of natural textiles. This is chiefly because of the use of products derived from fossil fuels and also the inclusion of harmful chemicals such as dyes or additives. 

The environmental effects that are caused by synthetic clothing or textiles may be summarised into the following key points: 

  • Waste accumulation
  • Pressure on landfills
  • Ocean pollution
  • Land degradation
  • Global warming
  • Increased melting of glaciers
  • Unprecedented weather patterns
  • Pollution
  • Leaching of chemicals
  • Disruption of aquatic and marine ecosystems
  • Loss of life
  • Harmful effects on human health
  • Medical complications
  • The effect at various levels of food chains
  • Soil erosion
  • Deforestation
  • Soil infertility
  • Destruction of crops
  • Economical damages

What is recycling & why should it matter?

Recycling can be defined as the reusing of consumer products by working on them. In this way, the products do not need to be made from scratch. 

You may wonder what is the importance or significance of recycling. It can be summed up in the following key points: 

  • Better resource management
  • Better waste management 
  • One of the best solutions to non-biodegradable waste
  • Water conservation
  • Decreased pressure on raw materials
  • Decreased consumption of energy (which is mostly non-renewable) 
  • Increased labour and employment prospects 
  • Reduced pollution and environmental anomalies 

Some of the common materials which can be recycled include:

  • Paper
  • Plastic 
  • Glass
  • Metals
  • Batteries 
  • Electronics

These are some examples. With the increasing awareness and better technology, more and more products are becoming recyclable which is a great indication of a shift towards sustainability and a green future. 

The biggest advantage that is reaped by the process of recycling is that it is one of the best solutions to deal with non-biodegradable waste. 

Non-biodegradable waste is a type of waste which may remain in the environment for hundreds of years. It can also cause environmental problems. 

When non-biodegradable waste is recycled, these effects are delayed if not deterred. This saves our environment from a lot of degradative effects. 

Another great benefit that is supported by the process of recycling is the re-usage of products. This decreases the stress given to raw materials. 

We have already seen that natural textiles are sourced from natural sources such as plants or animals. Increased production of textiles from scratch will mean the unsustainable cutting of trees or the killing of animals. 

The current scenario is already quite dense in this regard. It is estimated that humans have resulted in a decrease of more than 50% of the global tree count. In such dire scenarios, processes such as recycling offer great relief to the environment. 

Are textiles biodegradable?

Biodegradation is the breakdown of waste into simpler substances by various drivers of life. Microbes, bacteria, fungi, algae, and decomposers are the most common drivers that cause biodegradation. 

Other important elements that are essential to the equation of biodegradability are aeration, sunlight, temperature, pressure, and other external conditions. 

This ensures that life and the environment are saved from the harmful and degradative effects of biodegradation. This will also enable better waste management because if waste management is facilitated, there will be decreased consumption of energy and resources. 

Based on biodegradability, waste may be divided into two categories. These are 

  • Biodegradable waste (generally sourced from natural materials)
  • Non-biodegradable waste (generally sourced from non-natural materials)

Examples of biodegradable waste include crops, plants, dead animals, manure, sewage, bioplastics, and natural fabrics. These may degrade in some days or some months. 

Examples of non-biodegradable waste may include synthetic plastics, epoxies, synthetic dyes, and synthetic fabrics like acrylic fabrics. These substances may remain in landfills for hundreds of years. 

Therefore, it can be summarised that natural textiles such as cotton or silk are biodegradable whereas non-natural textiles such as viscose or acrylic are not biodegradable. 

The latter may require around 500-1000 years to degrade which may put great strain on the environment. 

Can textiles be composted?

Composting can be defined as a process in which organic waste is degraded to be made into compost. Compost is explained as dead organic matter. 

You may wonder what is the need for composting. Composting is very essential because the compost made can be used as a natural fertiliser. 

However, it is claimed that the process of composting needs to be done with certain specificities in mind. There are several conditions that have to be ensured before composting can be done. These are: 

  • The material should have organic content
  • The material should not be toxic 
  • The material should be biodegradable 
  • The material to be composted should not emit any harmful fumes or gases
  • The material should not be contaminated or infiltrated in any way. It should be pure

The process of composting is regarded as very similar to the process of biodegradation. Even in some cases, both the terms are used interchangeably. However, there are some individual differences between the two processes that create an unbridgeable rift between the two. 

Based on it, it can be claimed that only natural textiles can be composted because those will have organic content and will not yield any toxic or harmful effects on the soil or the environment. 

Conclusion: Where can textiles be recycled?

Textiles can be recycled in the nearest recycling centres. If you do not plan to go that far, you can simply dispose of textile products in green-coloured dustbins as these dustbins are intended for recycled material. 

The recycling of textiles will ensure better waste and resource management. The pressure on raw materials will be reduced while the decreased use of non-renewable resources will also be guaranteed. 

Textiles may be either natural or non-natural. Natural textiles are made from natural sources. Examples include cotton or silk. 

Non-natural textiles are made in the labs. Examples include rayon or acrylic fabrics. While both types can be recycled, the environmental impact of non-natural textiles is greater. 

Other than that, non-natural textiles also are not biodegradable and can not be composted. It may take hundreds of years for non-natural textile products to degrade. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Where can textiles be recycled?

Which coloured dustbins are used for recycled materials?

Green-coloured dustbins are used for recycled materials. 

Can all textiles be recycled?

Yes, both natural and synthetic textiles can be recycled. 

References

  • Tokiwa, Y., & Calabia, B. P. (2007). Biodegradability and biodegradation of polyesters. Journal of Polymers and the Environment, 15(4), 259-267.
  • Baffes, J. (2005). The “cotton problem”. The World Bank Research Observer, 20(1), 109-144.
  • Oosterhuis, D. M. (1990). Growth and development of a cotton plant. Nitrogen nutrition of cotton: Practical issues, 1-24.
  • Strand, E. A., Frei, K. M., Gleba, M., Mannering, U., Nosch, M. L., & Skals, I. (2010). Old textiles–new possibilities. European journal of archaeology, 13(2), 149-173.

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