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Making textile, food recycling a priority to help the planet

 A pigeon looks for food in a pile of rubbish in the street.
A pigeon looks for food in a pile of rubbish in the street.
Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Parents do it everyday. When a child doesn’t want to finish their vegetables (or some other random food they don’t like), the first thing kids hear is, “There are starving people in [insert country] who wouldn’t waste this.”

And sometimes this trick works. If only that same guilty conscience kicked in for recycling.

Food labels are confusing. Should “sell by,” “use by” and “best before” cause concern about whether consumers make the best decisions with their groceries? Maybe.

Forty percent of edible food is thrown away, according to TriplePundit. Outside of throwing food away out of disinterest, the tags on food labels are an understandable reason to trash edible products.

Fourteen percent of greenhouse gases emitted in the U.S. come from the food supply transition from farm to consumers’ plates and then to the landfill.

And while changing or reconsidering some of the labels on food and drink containers is a bigger issue that the FDA would have to get involved in, there’s another section in our homes where waste is high. And in this case, there is no expiration date.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "An estimated 14.3 million tons of textiles were generated in 2012, or 5.7 percent of total municipal solid waste (MSW) generation." The rest of MSW consisted of nondurable goods (ex. leather and rubber), containers and packages (ex. steel, aluminum, paper) and inorganic wastes totaling 249.86 tons. Fortunately, 85.4 percent of that was able to be recovered. Focusing on textiles, there are numerous ways to decrease those numbers.

Since 1980, textile consumption has quintupled. Imagine your average shopper has purchased 81 pounds of textiles per year for 10 years. This would add up to 810 pounds of household textiles. Subtract 100 pounds (10 pounds per year) for what may already be recycled. Now imagine the other 710 pounds ends up in landfills. That’s equal to 4,970 pounds of carbon dioxide released and 994,000 gallons of wasted water.

For consumers who make the most of their clothing, this may be no big deal. But for those who purchase fast fashion (clothing that is constantly changing, usually purchased for cheap prices because of inexpensive labor overseas, and discarded), wasting textiles is an environmental shakeup that can easily be resolved.

One trillion kilowatt hours are used every year by the global textile industry – 10 percent of global carbon impact. In order for one item to be made, it must go through extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal.

Every pound of clothing that is recycled or reused – even if it’s just to create rags or car seat stuffing – prevents seven pounds of greenhouse gases.

And while local recycling programs make it more convenient for consumers to recycle everyday grocery products, it’s always admirable to see textile recyclers help people be just as environmentally active.

For every pound reused or recycled, textiles account for more greenhouse gas savings than paper, plastic and glass combined.

With textile recycling bins becoming more popular – plus charitable organizations, churches and school facilities continuing to be active participants in textile recycling and deposits – this would help the planet and those who are also in need of clothing.

Follow Shamontiel on Pinterest for all of her latest Chicago news and events entries, or subscribe to her Chicago News & Events channel at the top of this page. Click here for more Green Living entries.

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