One commonly cited issue with company swag, such as t-shirts, hats, and tote bags, is that it contributes to the growing amount of waste in landfills. And while, according to EPA figures, clothing and footwear account for as little as 3% of all solid waste, only 13% of these materials get recycled.
While there are many ways to dispose of old or unwanted clothes, such as donating them to a local thrift store or taking them to a local recycling center, these opportunities aren’t, as our analysis shows, always available to many Americans.
To understand how recycling clothing and textiles varies across the nation, we looked at 151 cities in the United States, taking the three largest cities from each state and Washington, D.C.
We gathered data on local clothing recycling facilities, donation sites, government programs, and clothing recycling-related Google searches for each of these cities. Then, we scored each city on the metrics mentioned above, ranking them on an overall scale from 0 to 100, with cities scoring closest to 100 deemed the best for clothing recycling.
Read on to find out which cities are leading the way in clothing recycling, which may have some way to go, and how these cities compare on individual metrics that contribute to the overall recycling of clothes and apparel.
Based on our calculations, the city where recycling textiles is ranked best is Yonkers, NY, with a score of 87.3 out of a maximum of 100. This city excels in the number of textile recycling companies per capita and has a relatively high count of both donation sites and recycling centers.
Meanwhile, Boston, MA (84.5) and Atlanta, GA (83.7) score highly on recycling searches and have a decent number of recycling centers that accept clothing and textiles.
One factor that propelled these cities to the top of our ranking is the possibility to recycle clothes and apparel as part of a regular curbside waste and recycling collection. Many cities in our study have various initiatives and programs aimed at diverting clothing waste from landfills, but only 8 out of 151 cities we profiled offer textile recycling as part of a regular curbside waste collection.
Check out the top 20 cities in the interactive chart below. You can click on the color key to see how the cities compare on different factors that contributed to our ranking.
Stamford, CT is in the number 4 spot in part due to being the best city for recycling facilities for unwanted clothes. Stamford has many recycling centers (5.3 per 10,000 people) and drop-off points where residents can leave their apparel and clothing. Another reason for Stamford’s high ranking is the number of textile recycling companies in the area (16.2 per 10,000 people) – the highest in the nation.
Elsewhere, there are a handful of cities from the New England region, such as Delaware and Rhode Island, where the ratio of textile recycling facilities and donation points compared to the relatively low population pushed a number of them into the top 20 of our ranking.
It’s also worth noting that large cities Saint Louis, MO (69.0) and Los Angeles, CA (68.7) also made the top 20, mostly thanks to the high number of recycling searches, as indicated by the relevant Google searches of residents in these two cities.
It may be #4 in the overall ranking, but Stamford, CT is at the top in terms of recycling centers per capita, where residents can deposit their clothing and textiles. In Stamford, there are over 5 recycling centers per 10,000 residents.
Dover, NH, and Pearl City, HI, follow closely with just under five recycling centers that accept textiles per 10,000 people. Two cities in Delaware – Dover, DE, and Newark, DE – round off this top five.
As our data shows, comparatively smaller cities in Vermont and Delaware have the most favorable ratio of thrift stores and Goodwill/Salvation Army donation points to the population. This is why four of the top five cities by clothing donation opportunities are located in either Vermont or Delaware.
Specifically, Rutland, VT (27) and Dover, DE (25.1) have over 25 donation points per 10,000 people – by far the highest ratio in the United States.
Newark, DE and South Burlington, VT aren’t too far behind, as is Pearl City, HI. These three cities boast roughly 15-16 clothing and apparel donation points for every 10,000 inhabitants.
In terms of companies in the business of recycling, among other things, clothing and textiles, there’s no beating Stamford, CT, which has 16 such companies per 100,00 people.
Another city that topped our overall ranking - Yonkers, NY has roughly 9 such companies per 100,000 people.
Government participation is often key to the success of any recycling campaign or environmental initiative.
Of the cities we looked at, we only found eight cities that offer curbside collection of textile waste as part of a regular recycling program.
These cities are:
When we look at the number of active textile recycling programs at the city and state levels, both San Jose, CA and New York, NY have three city-level programs aimed at recycling textiles, such as clothes and footwear.
On top of that, there’s at least one state-level government-supported textile recycling initiative in California and New York, where these cities are located. Statewide initiatives are also rare, as we found them in D.C. and 15 out of 50 states.
If we consider recycling intent, as indicated by the number of relevant Google searches for terms such as “textile recycling” and “recycle clothes,” America’s largest cities dominate.
New York, NY takes the crown with 10,440 monthly searches for terms related to recycling of clothing. Los Angeles, CA, and Chicago, IL take the second and third spots with 6,570 and 5,160 searches per month, respectively.
This is partly down to the larger population but partly due to people in bigger cities often having greater awareness of eco-conscious initiatives such as recycling their clothes.
As events, conferences, and promotional campaigns continue to bounce back after a pandemic-induced hiatus, so does the distribution of promotional products and swag.
We also see that many of the companies we work with are carefully considering their swag needs or opting for eco-friendly swag materials that are both practical and sustainable.
Our research shows that many clothing recycling programs are being initiated and more recycling centers are opening up to accommodate the growing demand for recycling apparel and related materials.
By being mindful of the materials used and the long-term impact of clothing as a promotional product, we can work towards minimizing potential waste and promoting a more sustainable future.
First and foremost, we took the three most populous cities from each of the 50 U.S. states and added the nation’s capital – Washington, D.C. to arrive at a total of 151 cities on our list.
To assess and compare the possibility of donating unwanted clothes and apparel, we scoured Yelp, Salvation Army, and Goodwill websites to count the number of thrift stores in each of these cities.
To get a sense of local recycling facilities, we used local government websites and Yelp to estimate the number of recycling centers in each city that accept clothes and textiles.
We then scoured the local Yellow Pages and ScrapMonster listings to count the number of companies in the area that are in the business of textile recycling.
Using the official city, county, and state government websites, we established whether there are dedicated clothes and apparel recycling initiatives, which are either funded or supported by different levels of local government.
Finally, we checked how actively people in each of our 151 cities are looking to recycle their old clothes and textiles by using Google Ads API to check local Google search volume for keywords such as “recycle clothes.”
After adjusting for population where necessary, each factor was assigned a point score, with the total adding up to a maximum of 100. The scores were allocated as follows:
Cities with scores closest to 100 were deemed the most eco-conscious with regards to clothes and textile recycling. To explore the data in more detail and see how each of the 151 cities compares, see the data table below.