That favorite sweater with the worn elbow. The dress that would be perfect were it just a tad looser around the waist, that shirt with the stained cuff that could work as a short-sleeve shirt. The sheet with the tiny hole that’s only going to get bigger. Instead of just throwing these items away, DC is providing some creative options through ReThread DC, the District of Columbia’s new textile reuse and recovery initiative. ReThread DC promotes the reuse, recovering, and recycling of textiles to remove them from the waste stream by extending the life of garments, providing a source of affordable clothing for local families, and serving as raw material for the development of new items.
Danielle Nkojo leads DC’s Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE’s) ReThread DC program. She notes, “ReThread is focusing on four pillars of sustainability: refuse, reuse, repair, and recycle. DOEE’s ReThread DC partnerships reflect these categories.” “Refusal” focuses on individual behavior and purchasing only necessary items. It’s asking yourself, “Do I really need that new shirt?” “Reuse” focuses on partnerships with thrift, consignment, and resale shops, urging residents to consider buying (and selling!) clothes secondhand and through these local shops. Meanwhile, the “repair” aspect of ReThread DC will partner with local sewing instructors, tailors, and sewing circles who will teach residents how to mend clothing. And, finally recycling will be achieved through partnerships with local industrial fabric recyclers. All of these activities are designed to keep textiles out of the waste stream.
So, what spurred DOEE to initiate ReThread DC? According to Nkojo, audits of DC’s residential waste indicate that clothing and other textiles make up approximately 5 percent of the District’s waste stream More importantly, the cost of disposing of these textiles amounts to more than $200,000 annually – a bill that is footed by DC taxpayers. Meanwhile, it’s been estimated that 90 percent of textiles placed in the trash are still useful. ReThread DC hopes to reduce the amount of textiles that end up being thrown out. Success will be measured by working with program partners to estimate the weight of textiles that are diverted away from landfills and incineration annually. ReThread DC partners will also help DOEE measure behavior change and document how individuals manage unwanted clothing.
And did you know that the DC Public Library (DCPL) offers sewing machine use and classes to District residents? The sewing machines are currently located at the Petworth and Mount Pleasant libraries, but they’ll be moved to the Reeves Center later this spring. Residents can attend classes or use the machines on site. Meanwhile, DC’s Humane Rescue Alliance is always in need of old towels, sheets, and blankets.
Nkojo is excited about ReThread DC. “I’m really looking forward to some of the creativity that will be generated through the program and especially these sewing workshops. And, I hope the program will spur more people to discover the fun of shopping for clothes at some of DC’s thrift and consignment stores!”
ReThread DC is being adopted by the DC government as a part of the Sustainable DC plan which has an objective of making DC the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the nation by 2032 with a waste diversion goal of 80 percent. DC’s current waste diversion rate is less than 24 percent. DOEE Director Tommy Wells is also excited about ReThread DC. “Together with our foam ban, plastic bag fee, eCycle DC, PaintCare DC, the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Community Compost program, and the Department of Public Work’s citywide food waste drop-off program, ReThreadDC provides an important new tool, as we work to meet our 80 percent waste reduction goal.”
Resources and ideas for reusing, recycling, and upcycling textiles can be found on the Sustainable DC website at www.sustainabledc.org/get-involved/rethreaddc/ . The site includes a list of donate and repair resources as well as an events calendar.
Do you have sewing, upcycling, and repair skills that you’d like to share with other DC residents? Interested in organizing a clothes swap at your office or with your neighbors? Have ideas for creating new products out of used textiles? DOEE would love to hear your ideas! Contact them at [email protected].
Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler. She is also a Board Member and Conservation Chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, however, perspectives expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.