Wed February 29, 2012
Banning textiles from landfills means that all clothing, footwear, linens, carpets, old drapes, towels, coats and more would be prohibited from landfills across the country. Seems extreme, right? Well, it's not, and here's why.
First, let's look at the scope of the problem. According to the EPA, Americans discard approximately 13.1 million tons of textiles a year, and only about 15 percent of that is reclaimed for recycling. This means that more than 11 million tons of textiles are dumped into landfills across the country each year. That's more than 126 million cubic yards of landfill space -- and that's just one year's worth of discards! And once those textiles are in landfills they cause all kinds of harmful side effects. As they decompose they release methane, a harmful greenhouse gas and a significant contributor to global warming. Also, dyes and other chemicals can leach into the soil, contaminating surface and groundwater -- further harming human and wildlife.
It's no secret that a lot of what we throw away can actually be reused or recycled. There is a massive demand for second hand clothing around the world, especially in developing countries. Think exports. And the clothing that is no longer wearable can be recycled into furniture padding, insulation, wiping rags, recycled fabrics and more. But a landfill ban would go beyond just keeping textiles in the use stream and boosting our country's exports. It would also have positive effects on the local economy. You may not know that it costs millions to dispose of all those textiles in landfills, paid through consumer tipping fees and local taxes. That's right, your tax dollars pay for throwing good, reusable stuff away. The average charge for unloading or dumping waste at a landfill, or transfer facility, is about $44 per ton. Keeping textiles out of landfills would save more than $375 million per year in these fees alone.
On top of the money saved, reusing and recycling textiles creates jobs. The textile reclamation industry employs 85 times more workers than do landfills and incinerators on a per-ton basis. This deserves to be repeated -- 85 times more! A ban on textiles in landfills opens up all kinds of possibilities for job creation, from collection, to sorting for wholesale, to the thriving second hand clothing sales business. After all, landfill bans on recyclable materials has been proven to create jobs before. Since my home state of Illinois passed new laws banning electronics from landfills this January, a local company called Vintage Tech Recycling has reclaimed more than 2 million pounds of e-waste and created 25 jobs! That's just one small company in one city alone.
Landfill bans are not a new concept; in fact California banned electronics from landfills almost a decade ago. Today, 18 states and New York City have landfill or incineration bans on electronics. As a result, three times more electronics are being recycled in the U.S. today than just 10 years ago. North Carolina has banned hard plastic and Massachusetts has banned a long list of recyclables from landfills. Europe, a leader in recycling, set the ambitious goal to totally eliminate plastic waste going into landfills by 2020.
A ban on textiles in landfills would create much needed jobs, save taxpayers money, keep perfectly re-wearable and reusable items out of the trash and have a positive effect on the environment ... that isn't extreme, it's just common sense, isn't it?
We need to change our mindset and accept that recyclables encompass far more than just the bottles and cans we are so accustomed to tossing in the trusty blue bin. We can reuse and recycle so much of the material that is produced across the planet -- but only if we keep it out of landfills. If we want to reverse the harmful effects of global warming, protect water resources and wildlife, create jobs and save taxpayer money, we need to encourage more reuse and recycling. Landfill bans are a concrete and effective step in doing so.
Follow Mattias Wallander on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MattiasWall