The Process of Recycling Textiles

The range of markets for used textile fiber varies from vintage collectibles; to used clothing exported to less de veloped countries, to industrial uses. Traditional sources of textile waste come from three different sources:

1. fiber, yarn, and fabric processing

2. sewn products manufacture

3. discard at the end of its useful life

Textile and cutting wastes at the manufacturing level are considered pre-consumer waste and are easier to recycle because the fibers, dyes, and finishes are known and in like-new condition. Post-consumer waste is of uncertain origin and has a wide variance in quality and condition, making it more difficult to recycle. Ongoing research and development focuses on the problem of processing used, mixed fibers.

Most post-consumer textiles are collected by charity organizations, but it is impossible for charities to utilize all of the collected clothing so they sell the balance to rag graders. Approximately 500 textile recycling companies in the United States are responsible for diverting 775,000 tons of post-consumer textile waste from the landfills. These "rag sorters" sort used clothes for export, wipers, and fiber and fabric manufacturers (Council for Textile Recycling 1997). Although textile-recycling processors

Woman Sorting Thru Clothes
Women sorting recycled textiles. Textile recycling companies sort through clothing for fabrics that can be reclaimed for industrial use and those that can be sent to needy people in developing countries. Photograph taken by Jana M. Hawley, taken in Prato, Italy. Reproduced by permission.

have historically purchased their inventory by weight from charity surplus, they have recently begun to expand their base of suppliers by helping municipalities develop curb-side and drop-off textile collection programs. Almost half (45 percent) of the collected goods are recycled as secondhand clothing, typically sold to markets in developing countries. Thirty percent is used for the wiper industry and another 26 percent are converted to new raw materials used primarily as stuffing or insulation pads

See also Polyester; Secondhand Clothes, Anthropology of; Secondhand Clothes, History of; Textiles and International Trade.


Council for Textile Recycling. "Don't Overlook Textiles!"

Council for Textile Recycling, 1997. Goodard, Robert, and Daly Herman. "Environmental Sustain-ability: Universal and Non-Negotiable." Ecological Applications 6, no. 4 (1996): 1002-1117. Hawley, Jana M. "Textile Recycling as a System: The MicroMacro Analysis." Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences 92, no. 4 (2001): 40-46. Meis, M. "Consumption Patterns of the North: The Cause of Environmental Destruction and Poverty in the South:

Women and Children First." Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations Commission on Environment and Development, 1991.

Platt, Brenda. "Weaving Textile Reuse into Waste Reduction." Washington, D.C.: Institute for Local Self Reliance, 1997.

Watson, Jacky. Textiles and the Environment. New York: The Economist Intelligence Unit, 1991.

Jana M. Hawley, Pauline Sullivan, and Youn Kyung-Kim

REENACTORS Reenactors, referring to themselves sometimes as "living historians," are individuals who publicly recreate historical events and eras by donning historical dress and emulating period behavior. For most it is a hobby or pastime, occurring among all age groups and genders in varying locations around the world. People in the United States can be found reenacting the European medieval era, the American Revolutionary War, the early 1800s westward expansion, World War II, and other events. In the early 2000s the most popular era, judged by the frequency of reenactments and number of participants, is the American Civil War.

The best reenactors carefully craft the persona of individuals from the past. They refer to this activity as creating an "impression." To develop a credible impression reenactors must be authentic, which is indicated by the closeness to which a reenactor approaches exact replication of the "historical personage, place, scene, or event from the past" (Handler and Saxton, p. 243). Serious reen-actors invest a great deal of time researching their historical impressions to ensure authenticity. In fact, achieving authenticity in reenacting is viewed as an "index of performance competence" (Turner, p. 127). Those who master authenticity are admired by their fellow reenactors, and those who do not are frequently ridiculed by their peers.

Replicating period material culture is an important necessity for achieving authenticity. In other words, dress and accessories must give every appearance of being from the past. For the sake of authenticity reenactors spend considerable time and money buying and/or creating costumes congruent with their historical personae. For example, a first-rate Civil War uniform, including trousers, jacket, shirt, underwear, shoes, and hat can cost several hundred dollars. In addition, accessories such as a musket, military leathers, and bedrolls can push the entire investment to well over one thousand dollars. Great care is taken to ensure that historical anomalies are not apparent in the reenactor's kit or ensemble. Some even go so far as to count the number of thread stitches per inch in a garment's construction. "The objects of reenactment become deeply treasured emblems of identity . . . The form these objects take is guided by a collective aesthetic ... of painstaking detail and accuracy " (Turner, p. 126).

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