When people talk about America the Beautiful, they are certainly not referring to the 292.4 million tonnes of waste – which includes more than 17 million tonnes of textiles – which the country generated in 2018, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But on November 15, American Recycling Day aims to improve both the country and the planet by encouraging greater attention to consumption, promoting the benefits of recycling and explaining how consumers can both ‘recycle more and recycle properly’.
America Recycles Day started in 1994 and is now a Keep America Beautiful program, a program that strives to inspire communities and individuals not only to reduce landfill waste, but also to conserve natural resources and burn less fossil fuels.
The last national recycling day comes at a time when America is generating more solid waste than ever. The nearly 300 million tonnes produced a few years ago – the latest EPA figure – is an increase of 268.7 million tonnes in 2017, 208 million tonnes in 1990 and 88 million tonnes in 1960. While the United States represents less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it produces about 12 percent of the world’s municipal solid waste (MSW), this who makes us the biggest waste producer, according to Statista.
Of the 292.4 million tonnes of waste generated in the United States in 2018, textiles accounted for 5.8% or more of 17 million tonnes, according to the EPA. A part of textiles (9.3 percent or 3.2 million tonnes) not being recyclable, these materials went through a combustion process that converted the waste to usable heat, electricity or fuel. But combustion is not as preferable as recycling. And only 2.5 million tonnes of these textiles have been recycled. This means that of the 146.1 million tonnes of waste that has been dumped in landfills nationwide, textiles account for 11.3 million tonnes, or 7.7 percent.
Currently, the EPA has set a goal of 50 percent recycling rate by 2030, up from the 30% average range it has been in since the 1990s.
To help consumers achieve this goal, Cotton Incorporated is once again incorporating its Blue Jeans Go Green ™ program by promoting a social initiative, the third annual #DenimStackChallenge. Launched in 2006, the Blue Jeans Go Green ™ program recovers old denim, made from a high cotton content, so that it can be recycled to its original fiber state and transformed into useful new products such as Building insulation, thermal insulation of packaging, pet bed inserts, and more. The #DenimStackChallenge asks consumers to take inventory of their denim, take photos of their denim “piles” and share them on social media, then recycle the pieces they can no longer wear.
Since the start of the Blue Jeans Go Green ™ program, over 1,950 tonnes of denim were diverted from landfills and over 3,900,000 pieces of denim were recycled. In 2021 alone, more than 60,000 pieces of denim have been collected so far in the first three quarters through the Zappos for Good mail-in program, in addition to what has been collected by individuals and retailers.
Among consumers who participated in Blue Jeans Go GreenMT According to Cotton Incorporated’s Blue Jeans Go Green, 80% said they decided to contribute because they “were trying to be more sustainable or environmentally conscious.”MT Program survey. Consumers also said they liked the fact that their denim is helping communities (80 percent). They also said they were unaware of any other denim recycling program (80 percent). Consumers said they took part in the Blue Jeans Go GreenMT program “makes me feel like I’ve done something right” (60%), and they prefer to keep their unwanted denim items out of landfills (60%).
Blue jeans go green™ program invites consumers to drop off their old, worn cotton denim clothes at participating retailers or local events. When depositing in stores, shoppers often receive cash or a percentage on their next denim purchase. Some of this year’s retailers include Industry Standard, Just Black Denim, Paige denim, PacSun, and Levi’s®.
On World Cotton Day, October 7, PacSun announced its involvement in Cotton Incorporated’s Blue Jeans Go Green ™ program to launch the “PacDenim for Good” initiative.
“As a brand dedicated to inspiring positive development with fashion, we firmly believe that small changes today will translate into a brighter future,” said Brie Olson, President of PacSun. “We are delighted to present PacDenim for Good as part of our journey towards a more sustainable future. “
More than 2 in 5 consumers (43%) say they donate their old jeans that they no longer plan to wear, according to the 2020 Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor ™ Investigation. This is followed by 18% who plan to give them away, 12% who plan to throw them away, and 9% who plan to reuse them in a different way, such as cleaning rags or craft projects.
But brands and retailers should note that nearly 70 percent of consumers say they are or would be interested in donating their old jeans / denim clothing for recycling into housing insulation that is donated to homes. programs like Habitat for Humanity, according to Monitor ™ research.
The majority of consumers (38 percent) say they would be more influenced to donate their old denim if a nearby retailer accepted the denim for recycling, according to the Monitor ™ research. They would also be inclined to contribute if retailers offered a discount on new jeans in their stores (36%). 33% say they would be inspired to ditch their jeans if they received more information about denim upcycling and its environmental benefits, while 32% said they would donate if they could send in their contribution of denim to the brand / company for free.
Consumers who want to recycle by mail are in luck. In 2019, Zappos for good joined the Blue Jeans Go Green ™ program and has since encouraged denim owners to pack their items (up to 50 pounds and must contain at least 90 percent cotton denim) in any shipping box including they dispose. Zappos for Good provides prepaid shipping labels that consumers can print and attach to their boxes, which can then be dropped off at any UPS store or Continental US drop-off point.
Community jeans drives in neighborhoods and offices are also organized as part of the Blue Jeans Go Green ™ program. And the denim collections are held at K-12 schools, colleges and universities. Over 100 educational organizations have helped collect over 300,000 pieces of denim. This year, in collaboration with Junior week, the Blue Jeans Go Green ™ program invites children ages 8 to 14 to design a recycling-inspired t-shirt that represents what it means to ‘do good in denim’, or how old denim could be reused or recycled to help the planet.
Cotton Incorporated’s denim recycling program is large in scope and seeks to involve as many consumers as possible. By encouraging action and advocacy, Cotton Incorporated seeks to harness the collective power of the community to bridge sustainability and circularity, restoring old denim to its original cotton state and renewing it through the many possibilities of recycled denim.