Textile Recycling, Convenience, and the Older Adult

Article excerpt


This study examines the recycling practices and needs of older adults with special attention to convenience, motivations for nonparticipation, and disposition of textiles. Results indicate that older homeowners do recycle traditional materials when curbside collection is available, but these programs need to be modified to accommodate the physical limitations of older people. Older adults reported textile recycling as time consuming and a hassle and used donations to religious organizations as their chief means of textile recycling. Educational programs about textile recycling are needed to educate the older adult and municipalities with an emphasis on convenience and variety of disposition methods.

Management of the solid waste stream continues to be a priority for many communities. In the past 10 years, there has been increased sophistication in the programs used to recover traditional materials such as glass, paper, plastic, and tin. Today, most municipalities provide the homeowner with convenient, co-mingled, curbside collection programs. Municipalities must extend their recycling programs to include other nontraditional materials such as textiles and apparel, while examining the recycling needs of special population groups, to continue to reduce the amount of solid waste. The growing number of older homeowners and their associated physical limitations will require municipalities to adapt their waste management strategies to provide even greater accessibility and convenience.

Currently, there is little research concerning the waste management and recycling activities of older people. Both government policymakers and local municipalities must be informed about the current recycling activities of the older adult to effectively meet the recycling needs of this large and growing segment of the American population. Therefore, the purposes of this exploratory study were to (a) explore the influence of convenience on the recycling behavior of the older adult and reasons for nonparticipation; (b) investigate the variety of materials recycled; and(c) to determine whether older adults' environmental concern, textile attitudes, and method of disposal differed from younger individuals.


According to the Council for Textile Recycling (1998), consumer textile waste consists of all types of garments or household articles made of textiles that the owner no longer needs and decides to discard. Statistics collected by the Council for Textile Recycling (1998) indicate that approximately 10 pounds per capita or 1,250,000 tons of textile waste is recycled annually. These 10 pounds represent less than 25% of the total consumer textile waste that is generated. Consumers need to be made aware of the importance of recycling nontraditional materials such as textiles, because recycling lengthens product life, delays the time when the products enter the solid municipal waste stream, and prolongs the life of available waste management facilities (Domina and Koch,1999).

Studies of textile recycling have reported that donations to nonprofit organizations and passing on to family and friends were the most common methods of textile recycling (Avery, 1967; Chun, 1987; Koch and Domina, 1997; Shim, 1995). Nonprofit organizations only use around 500,000 tons (40%) of the estimated 1.25 million tons they collect; the balance is sold to rag graders, textile exporters, or discarded in landfills (Riggle, 1992). Pitts (1995) investigated recycling methods used by consumers attending adult education programs. Textile recycling was reported by 83% of the respondents and was related to income and age, with older adults more likely to participate in textile recycling. More recent research indicates that consumers may be willing to extend their recycling activities to include textiles and apparel if convenient methods were provided (Domina and Koch, 1999; Koch and Domina, 1999).

Research indicates that convenience and access to recycling facilities are significant factors in increasing recycling participation (Berger, 1997; Domina and Koch, 1999; Foltz, 1991; Nyamwange, 1996; Oskamp et al. …