Old shirts, pants, sweaters, bed sheets, blankets, quilts, towels and curtains – we all make decisions about what to do when stuff like this reaches the end of its useful life for us.
While we always recommend donating or repurposing, it’s an unfortunate reality that much of it gets placed in Rumpke recycling containers and causes big problems at recycling centers. Please don’t place old clothing or bed sheets in your Rumpke recycling bin.
Why Would Someone Put Clothes in the Recycling?
In many of our conversations with well-intentioned recyclers, this is a form of “wish-cycling,” where individuals place items in the recycling in hopes that Rumpke is able to recover and recycle it. However, we can’t, and these items end up taking a tour of the city or state before heading to the landfill.
In other cases, it’s a matter of convenience – either put it in the trash or the recycling bin. It feels wrong to place clothes in the trash, so it goes in the recycling instead. If it’s an “either/or” situation, please go with the trash.
What Happens When Clothes Go in the Recycling?
Rumpke sees quite a bit of these items in recycling. In December alone at our Cincinnati and Columbus recycling facilities, it accounted for about 20 percent of unplanned downtime (i.e. time the recycling system isn’t running because of a jam or other malfunction).
Fabric materials are referred to as “tanglers” in the recycling industry because these materials easily wrap around hundreds of spinning discs and rotating belts – ultimately causing extensive damage to sorting equipment.
So, please don’t put clothing or bed sheets in your Rumpke recycling bin.
What to Do with Old Clothing?
If you shouldn’t put t-shirts, pants, shoes, sheets, quilts and blankets in your recycling, what should you do?
- Donate – many local charities would love to have your items (even if tattered or stained)
- Hand Down – share the stuff that no longer fits with someone else
- Sell – add a little income through online sales (Facebook’s community marketplace and private neighborhood groups are growing in popularity)
- Repurpose – make dust rags or other fun crafts
- Trash – as a last resort, place it in the garbage (we know you did your best)
About the author: Jonathan Kissell is the communications manager for Rumpke Waste & Recycling.