Is waste finally going out of fashion? What to know about California’s new fabric recycling pilot program

Thanks to fast fashion, the garment industry is currently one of the greatest threats to the environment—Senate Bill 1187, signed into law this September, might be a pivotal step towards changing that.

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Nina Dang
Nina Dang

Former Campaign Associate, CALPIRG

If you’re anything like me, getting rid of an old item of clothing is a special kind of heartbreak: it served you well for years, but it’s starting to look ratty and your friends won’t let you wear it out anymore; thrift stores won’t even take it! But it’s okay—you can easily find a place to recycle it, so that your beloved item may still live on, just in another form. Right? 

Wrong. In fact, your item is much more likely to be burnt or dumped into a landfill, along with the vast majority of clothing waste. 

Around 85% of all textiles thrown away in the US either gets burnt or buried in landfills. Globally, the equivalent of a garbage truck load of clothes meets either of these fates every second. Additionally, the fashion industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and is the world’s second-largest industrial polluter, second only to oil. Taken together, the solid waste and industrial emissions created by the fashion industry make it one of the most pressing threats to our planet’s health. Unless practices change, the industry’s global emissions will likely double by 2030, and annual textile waste will increase from 92 million tonnes to 148 million tonnes in the same period. 

Compared to paper, glass, and plastic bottles, recycling garments is labor-intensive, slow and requires a skilled workforce—which is why textile recycling infrastructure lags far behind, which makes it difficult to get your old clothes recycled. However, if we’re going to save our planet from irreversible damage, we need to make it easy to repurpose and recycle garments. This was the idea behind Senate Bill 1187, authored by Senator Sydney Kamlager, and signed into law this September. 

The bill launches a pilot program aimed at pioneering a system for textile recycling.

According to Senator Kamlager, the program will “set up a collaboration between stakeholders in the fashion industry and have them act together on reducing the fashion industry’s negative impact on the environment.” The bill specifies that the project must create accessible textile collection sites, improve technology for sorting textiles, develop a hub for consolidating scraps, and educate communities on the impacts of, and alternatives to, fast fashion. 

If successful, the program will develop the infrastructure we need to move toward a circular fashion economy that cuts fabric waste. Californians would be able to give their clothes and linens a new life, instead of having them pollute the planet. The full impact, however, may reach far beyond our state. As a global fashion hub and the fifth largest economy in the world, industrial change in California has the power to transform business practices around the world.


Nina Dang

Former Campaign Associate, CALPIRG

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