Textiles are flexible materials made up of networked fibers – either natural or artificial. They can be woven, knit, knotted, felted, or braided. While we often mean fabric when talking about textiles, this scrap also includes yarn, string, and carpeting.

Textile scrap falls into two main categories – textiles that are reused, like buying a piece of used clothing, and textiles that are recycled (meaning they are broken down in some way and transformed). For recycling textiles, the process is different depending on the base material. If the textile is made of natural fibers, like cotton, animal fur, wool, silk, hemp, and bamboo, after sorting by color the textile is pulled or shredded into fibers. For synthetic textiles (like polyester), the material is shredded and then granulated into chips, melted down, and turned into new fibers.

Donated textiles at the St. Paul, Minnesota Goodwill Outlet warehouse. Photo by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), April 15, 2019. Courtesy of Flickr.


Synthetic textile scrap is most often reused as new synthetic textiles. Natural fiber textile scrap, after being broken down into fibers is cleaned and spun into yarn, then woven into new fabrics for clothes, linens, and towels. If compressed, instead of spun into yarn, textile scrap can become mattress stuffing, furniture padding, or car insulation.

Yarn made from recycled textiles. Photo by Ellen Sillekens, July 7, 2014. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Textile recycling reduces the energy and water used to create new fabrics and has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of material sent to landfills. In the United States, the textile recycling industry removes approximately 2.5 billion pounds of post-consumer textiles each year from the waste stream and creates more than 17,000 jobs. 

Textile fiber made from recycled clothing and linens, ready for processing into insulation and absorbents, on display at The Eco Experience building at the Minnesota State Fair. Photo by Tony Webster, August 29, 2018. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


More than 70% of the world’s population uses secondhand clothing.

The average lifetime of a piece of clothing is approximately 3 years.

61% of reusable and recyclable textiles collected in the US are exported to other countries.