Here's how you can recycle your unwanted denim jeans, reduce textile waste in US landfills

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer

Did you know that the average American throws away approximately 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles each year?

Textile waste including denim, which is made from biodegradable cotton, takes up nearly 5 percent of all landfill space, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA also estimates that although the textile industry does recycle about 3.8 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste annually, that amount only accounts for 15 percent of all post-consumer textile waste.

This leaves 85 percent of that waste in United States landfills, according to the Council for Textile Recycling.

Denim jeans and home insulation - Cotton Incorporated

Cotton Incorporated's Blue Jeans Go Green program upcycles unwanted denim into UltraTouch™ Denim Insulation for housing organizations across the country. (Photo/Cotton Incorporated)

Of those textiles, denim jeans are among the most popular in the U.S. American consumers demand an estimated 450 million pieces of denim per year, according to credit rating company JCR-VIS.

To create your favorite jeans, reports that it requires about 1,800 gallons of water just to grow enough cotton to produce one pair.

It’s part of why keeping denim out of landfills is a big priority for some companies and organizations, including Cotton Incorporated.

“We’ve really seen, based on recent studies, that there is so much textile waste that is ending up in landfills,” said Kaitlyn Piscadlo, marketing manager at Cotton Incorporated.

“It’s such a shame, because something like denim can be recycled, given new life and given back to local communities,” said Piscadlo, who works closely with Cotton Incorporated’s Blue Jeans Go Green program.

The program, founded in 2006, allows people to recycle their old denim clothing of any brand in exchange for savings on new pairs of jeans.

The collected denim will then returned to its natural cotton fiber state and upcycled into UltraTouch™ Denim Insulation for housing organizations across the U.S, helping to divert denim from landfills where millions of pounds of textiles are discarded annually.

To date, the program has kept over 700 tons of textile waste out of landfills, according to Cotton Incorporated.

The UltraTouch™ Denim Insulation is made of 80 percent post-consumer recycled denim, according to Piscadlo.

“It’s durable, environmentally friendly, has great sound absorption and is also mildew resistant,” she said. “It’s a really high-quality housing insulation product.”

The Blue Jeans Go Green program has manufactured about 4 million square feet of insulation for distribution to local communities via Habitat for Humanity affiliates across the U.S.

Cotton Incorporated’s denim insulation grant program also allows organizations to apply to receive installation for their buildings.

Infographic - Textile recycling

How to recycle your old denim

In 2017, Cotton Incorporated learned that 65 percent of U.S. consumers say that they recycle their clothing or textiles.

“To us, it’s important to know that people do want to recycle, get involved and try to make their own positive environmental impact,” Piscadlo said.

The Blue Jeans Go Green program has collected more than 2 million pieces of denim as of 2018 with the support of its partners.

Those who’d like to recycle their denim jeans, skirts and similar items are able to drop them off at select clothing retailers including Madewell and J. Crew, which offer a discount on a new pair of jeans.

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You can also mail in your denim throughout the year.

Blue Jeans Go Green also allows groups and organizations to start their own denim drives. Student groups at various colleges and universities participate in student-organized drives each fall, according to Piscadlo.

College students have helped collect more than 221,000 pieces of denim for the program.

“[Recycling denim] is such an easy way to get involved and help benefit the environment, but also, you’re giving back,” Piscadlo said. “All of that denim really gets put to good use.”

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