Let’s Talk Textiles Webinar Follow-Up

RethinkWaste held a textiles webinar on February 15, 2023 featuring three expert presenters – Dr. Joanne Brasch, Dr. Connie Ulasewicz, and Shana McCraken. The three presenters shared textile recycling and mending projects and answered questions from the audience.

This page provides the presentation slides, links to resources, the recording of the event, and questions and answers from the audience.


Webinar Recording

Questions and Answers

1. What are the most effective methods for reducing the amount of textile waste generated?

Dr. Connie Ulasewicz: The first thing you can do is support a circular economy. Instead of purchasing clothing, wearing it, then throwing it out, you can rent it instead. You could also do a clothing swap with others, and even include a sewing machine at your clothing swap to mend pieces and make them special again. Another thing you can do is buy garments that are 100% made of one kind of a fiber content that is easier to recycle than other types of fibers. Lastly, you can seek out local organizations that offer textile recycling or reuse events.

2. I use a lot of fabric and textiles, and often am left with fabric scraps. What can I do with these?

Dr. Connie Ulasewicz and Dr. Joanne Brasch: First, I recommend utilizing and cutting garments in a way that uses as much of the fabric as possible to reduce waste. Another option is textile recycling through various organizations and services. I recently worked with a company who mails bags to customers to fill with their leftover textile scraps to then be sent back and recycled. However, I can’t always be 100% sure that these scraps were actually recycled by this company. That’s why it’s important to do thorough research. There are also several paid and subscription-based companies where they claim to send textile scraps to be recycled in places like Europe, but don’t end up actually recycling them. We shouldn’t have to ship scraps off to Europe to be recycled in the first place. We should have local textile recycling options here with no extra costs.

3. What is being done to make textile recycling more accessible locally?

Dr. Joanne Brasch: California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC) is sponsoring legislation this year on textile recycling and reuse in California. Hopefully, if that bill is passed, there should be some local solutions available down the line. Our goal with this legislation is to create an equitable circular economy in which the funds follow the materials, so that everyone in the circular economy is supported financially.

4. Can you speak to the current state of chemical recycling in California and the US?

Dr. Joanne Brasch: It’s important to be wary of anyone who calls themselves a chemical recycler. Chemical recycling is one of those blanket terms that’s commonly misused because you can use chemistry to recycle in a lot of different ways. But most of the chemical recycling processes are not transparent in their energy use, their water use, and the pollution they generate from the process. We know a lot of textiles have PFAs, which are chemicals that are added to our textiles and fibers. So, it’s important to question where those are going during the recycling process. But I will say the chemical recycling space is growing, and there are some advanced recyclers that use different types of processes including depolarization. Because chemical recycling is a blanket term, it’s important to ask questions to understand what specifically their process is like and what their system inputs are. I will add that these recyclers are thirsty for textiles. So, if we don’t continue to supply them with our textiles and scraps, they will start turn to usable materials, just to keep their technology fed.

5. Can you talk about what textile waste in Ghana and what can be done about that?

For context, Ghana is one of the many victims of the fast fashion industry. It has become a dumping ground for unwanted textile apparel, which has started to quickly accumulate on its beaches and lands. As fast fashion causes the quality of clothing to worsen, clothing articles generally have shorter average lifetime use. This increases textile waste, and leads to environmental disasters similar to what Ghana is currently experiencing.

Dr. Joanne Brasch: Ghana and the accumulations of textiles in secondhand markets is ultimately what results from these textile waste problems being externalized. So, when everyone turns a blind eye and no one is really paying for the recycling, it begins to accumulate and affect our most vulnerable communities.

6. Is there a market for street banners after they’ve been turned into bags and other products? I know there’s been no demand in some places due to high prices.

Recyclestuff.org is a great resource for residents of the counties of San Mateo and Santa Clara. This website helps patrons identify how and where to recycle a variety of materials (including various fabrics) in order to increase waste diversion from the landfill.

Dr. Connie Ulasewicz: Yes, there is definitely demand here. I know of two organizations that are currently working on this now. They’re able to upcycle street banners into tote bags as well as create other things like zippered pouches.