Screen Printing:

3 Ways to Reduce Textile Waste

By Tessa Sainz, Contributing Writer

March 4, 2013

Almost all screen printers reuse the damaged and misprinted shirts that inevitably result from the screen printing process. Most of us work at small businesses, so the concept of reusing goods, having less waste and being more environmentally friendly are usually also helpful to the financial success of our businesses.

However, there are other things we can do to reduce waste, which will help cut down on the 5% of our landfills that are currently occupied with textile waste. Following are a few options that go beyond the usual ideas for that extra waste piling up or something to do with used shop rags beyond throwing them away.

Textile recycling is a growing practice around the country. Recycling programs often partner with donation groups to get as much use as possible out of the textiles and clothing they receive. If a recycled garment can’t be used in a second-hand manner, it’s often recycled into rags or processed into fibers, which can be used for things like filling for car door panels or insulation.

Most of what these organizations take in gets reused or repurposed. Chicago’s program, for example, has 45% of its collection reused as second-hand clothing, 30% is recycled into wiping cloths and 15% is reprocessed into fibers, with only 5% of their collected items being deemed unusable, according to the Chicago Textile Recycling website.

Textile recycling has now grown so much that some cities even have curbside textile recycling. Last fall, Queen Creek, Ariz., made national headlines with its pilot program designed to recycle textiles during regular trash and recycling pickup. Some communities outside Philadelphia also launched a similar program last fall.

New York has clothing and textile collection bins for its GrowNYC program at many drop-off locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan, as well as one in Queens and two in Staten Island. There are similar programs in other large cities, as well as some smaller municipalities, but many of us don’t live in areas that have municipal textile recycling programs.

Luckily, there are several organizations that can connect you to a drop-off box near you, or even let you host a box at your shop. It only takes about 5 square feet of space and your customers can recycle their old clothing while picking up new shirts. American Textile Recycling Services reaches several regions of the United States and other organizations also maintain drop-off boxes. Many such textile-recycling organizations exist, so finding one in your area should be pretty easy with a simple Internet search.

The problem with textile recycling programs for screen printing shops is that in order to be recycled, textiles have to be clean, dry and free of chemicals. If you use these garments as shop rags, such recycling programs may not be an option for you. However, it’s something to keep in mind if you find your clean waste or misprints running high. Some of these programs also state that they won’t accept industrial waste, but it couldn’t hurt to contact your local program to inquire about whether your offering is acceptable. Maybe your shop rags can be processed for fibers if you only use them for ink cleanup and run them through a dryer to cure that ink.

If you have a lot of garment waste that’s clean and wearable, there are plenty of options. Check with local homeless, women’s or children’s shelters, which will likely have the most need for them. If not, there are several charities that will collect and send them to impoverished countries where they will be put to good use.

There also may be donation options for your non-wearable textile waste. Some non-profit thrift stores sell such damaged items to companies that make rags or process them down into fibers for another use. When I lived in Philadelphia, I often volunteered at a non-profit thrift store, which raised funds for other local non-profit agencies. As volunteers, we would have sorting parties where we separated the “weight” from what we could sell in the store. There are several of these types of thrift stores around the country that raise money to benefit one or more non-profit groups in their areas.

When I moved to Dallas, I found one that funded a local women’s shelter. As another alternative, try a local Goodwill donation center.  Someone there may be happy to take your shop rags as part of their “weight” and you’ll be helping to raise money for a great cause.


Does your local high school have a band or athletics booster club? Many times, these groups will have craft shows to raise funds and those parents might be happy to take a load of garments off your hands to make into something else. You also can check with your local Humane Society. They often need rugs or blankets for the animals and many have partner volunteer organizations that help to make these kinds of items.

Individual crafters are another resource you could tap. Sites like Etsy, Storenvy and even Pinterest have grown immensely in the past few years, launching a handmade revolution. As a result, both amateur and professional crafters have sprung up all over the country. I know lots of people who make things using old textiles. Many people cut up old clothing items and use them in sewing projects. Sometimes, they even use the leftover bits to stuff their items instead of buying new polyfill. Knitters can even get into the action by cutting T-shirts into long strips and knitting them like they would knit with yarn. Some people make their own archival paper by processing cotton or linen textiles themselves.

Connecting with your local crafting community usually is pretty easy. Many have online groups where they gather to post information and support each other’s efforts. Etsy and Storenvy have discussion forums for posting information about where you are and what you have available. You also could visit your local Freecycle group to see if anyone has any use for them. The Freecycle Network is free to join, moderated by local volunteers and has groups worldwide where people give things away to others who can use them to help keep things out of landfills.

Using the Freecycle Network is pretty hassle-free; you post to your local group and the group gets an email (you can also set it to get a daily or weekly email of all posts) and anyone who wants an item replies to the poster, who picks a recipient. Once the poster emails the recipient, all that’s left is for that person to pick up the item. Using crafters could be a great way to make sure your textile waste has another life; your shop rags could be cleaned and turned into stuffing or something else for an awesome handmade item.

Finding new ways to reduce and reuse textile waste helps our environment and communities. Let’s find ways to continue these important initiatives!

Tessa Sainz has been a screen printing enthusiast since she was an undergraduate student at Notre Dame. She now works as an assistant manager for a Fortune 500 company in the apparel industry. She also started Krmbal, an eco-conscious indie graphic T-shirt brand. For more information or to comment on this article, email Tessa at, or check out her blog at