Our economic growth depends on the continual marketing of new products. Every season we buy something new and caste off something old. According to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year. The Council for Textile Recycling estimates that 2.5 billion pounds of postconsumer textile waste (which includes anything made of fabric) is collected. This represents 10 pounds for every person in the United States.
Most of us take a tax deduction by donating to NCJW or Goodwill but only about one-fifth of that donated clothing is directly used or sold in thrift shops. The rest is sold to textile recyclers like Trans-America Trading Company and ABS Inc. Clothing and Exports where workers separate used clothing into 300 different categories by type of item, size, and fiber content.
30% of these textiles are turned into absorbent wiping rags for industrial uses and 25–30% are recycled into fiber for use as stuffing for upholstery, insulation, and the manufacture of paper products. 45% of these textiles continue their life as clothing overseas. Rare vintage high-end fashions are imported by Japan who is the largest buyer in terms of dollars. The rest is sold in more than 100 developing countries. One example is Tanzania where mitumba clothing markets dot the country. Small entrepreneurs buy 100-pound bales of mixed clothing and separate out the pieces to price individually depending on the condition and desirability of the clothing.
Whenever watching something about a developing country, I always wonder about the clothing that often looks like it came from Marshalls or Gabriels. Turns out that’s not so far from the truth.