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The Though Kitchen - Dedicated to Stirring the Pot


Posted by Josie | March 22nd, 2010 | Filed under Sustainability, Who We Are

1008Working at Nau, I get to know the ins and outs of recycled fabrics. Recycled polyester? Deal with it every day. Recycled wool? Sure. But until last week I hadn’t even heard of recycling cotton—or how close I am to one of its stories every day.

Polyester recycling programs, like Eco-Circle and Common Threads, started popping up in the apparel industry about 5 years ago. But while buying a piece of polyester clothing that can be recycled is pretty revolutionary, it turns out the cotton industry has been recycling apparel for decades. “Going organic” is the sexy cotton story that everyone is talking about because it’s relatively new, while the story about recycling cotton is often over-looked.

I learned a few days ago that large scale in the Lizard Lounge (our retail store here in Portland) isn’t just another cool recycled fixture Bob found at a thrift store.  From 1961-2005, our building was occupied by Pioneer Wiping Cloth, a company that took cotton from the waste stream and recycled it into wiping rags. They used this massive scale to weigh large bundles (up to 2000 pounds) of inbound cotton clothing, and outbound bundles of cotton wiping rags.

Unlike recycling polyester, cotton recycling is not a revolutionary idea. Pioneer Wiping Cloth was founded in 1931 because it was clear that clothing with holes or stains was no where near the end of its useful life. It’s still more durable than a paper product and more absorbent. Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other thrift stores send clothes that are unsellable to places like Pioneer Wiping Cloth where it’s sorted and turned into wiping rags, sold overseas, or eventually made into recycled cotton yarn.

Another interesting part of the cotton waste stream is the “Cotton. From Blue to Green” program where old blue-jeans become home insulation.

As a self-proclaimed green-geek, I am inspired by how the cotton industry found a profitable way of reusing and recycling cotton for at least 80 years. I’d like to say “thank you, cotton” for having a happy ending to your waste-stream story.

9 Responses to “Recycled…cotton?”

  • March 22, 2010 at 7:59 am | AlexE says

    Irrelevant question: has Nau done away with wallets for good? I wanted and needed a Fluent Doc so badly.

  • March 22, 2010 at 8:48 am | Kyle Williams says

    Does Nau take in their old cotton clothes for recycling? Cuz that would be CRAZY DOPE if they did… All I’m sayin

  • March 22, 2010 at 9:45 am | Josie says


    Good news- both the Billfold and the Fluent Doc will be restocked on nau.com the first week of May.

    Even better news- the Lizard Lounge has a couple Fluent Docs in stock right now. Give them a ring and they can take your order over the phone and ship one to you; 503.416.7476.


    We take our polyester clothing back when customers are finished with it because there are very few easily accessible ways to recycle polyester. Cotton, on the other hand, is recycled when you give it to your local thrift shop. Since most people live within biking distance of a thrift store, we’ll probably leave the cotton recycling to them.


  • March 22, 2010 at 11:21 am | AlexE says

    Thank you very much for that, Josie.

  • March 22, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Kyle Williams says

    Thanks Josie!

  • April 2, 2010 at 1:56 pm | BWJ says

    I own a couple pair of Levi’s “Eco blue flame” jeans. I think they use 30% recycled cotton in them, that I really love. I had no idea it’s been done since the 30′s though! That’s fantastic.

  • May 6, 2010 at 5:48 am | david h says


    Will the Fluent Doc be restocked soon? I’ve been checking every day this week!

  • May 6, 2010 at 7:53 am | josie says

    I just checked on the order. It looks like they are taking a few extra days to get through customs. They should be in next week.

    Thanks for keeping tabs on us!

  • May 20, 2010 at 6:38 am | david h says

    Now they are on the webiste, but it says out of stock. So tantalizingly close!

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