Did you know that the EPA estimates that textiles make up 5% of all landfills in the US?
Or that only 15% of unwanted clothing is actually recycled?
Or that the average US citizen throws away an estimated 70 lbs worth of textile waste annually?
When we think of waste, we often envision things like crushed up plastic water bottles, soiled food wrappers and dirty diapers – not a perfectly wearable pair of jeans that got thrown away just because they don’t fit anymore (raise your hand if you’re guilty).
Even in the case of an old stained t-shirt or pair of shredded underwear (like waaaay past the emergency-laundry-day underwear stage) there are plenty of textile recycling programs to keep even the most unwearable items out of landfills.
First and foremost, I’m a proponent of being a conscious consumer. Purchasing clothing you know you love and will wear often, or doing like I do, and purchasing clothing secondhand that is already in the waste stream. It’s a deeper issue than just finding solutions for what to do with all your old clothing – ultimately, the bigger solution is shifting our buy-what-you-want-for-cheap-and-then-toss-it culture, to one of buying what you love and what will last.
But, if you’ve got a giant bag full of Ed Hardy graphic tees and gaucho pants from your not-so-consciously-consuming days collecting dust in the back of your closet, here’s how to keep them out of the trash and out of your sight.
“Recycling” clothing doesn’t necessarily mean only sending it to get shredded up and turned into something new. Recycling can simply mean passing items on to be used and loved by someone else.
If you want your clothing to live on, but don’t want to mess with reselling, donating your items to a local homeless shelter or community center in your town is an amazing option to help others while keeping your clothing out of landfills. First though, make sure there is an actual need for the clothing items you have before just dropping them off. Donating isn’t an excuse to just pawn your unwanted clothing onto someone else that also doesn’t want or need them.
Also, make sure to only donate items in good, wearable condition though. Don’t just use a clothing donation drop off as your “trash can” for your smelly old gym socks with holes in the toes. Though the practices vary between organizations, they might end up sending unwearable items to landfills, defeating the whole the purpose of why we’re here in the first place, right?
So what do you do with your items that just can’t even anymore? I recommend two options:
Old t-shirts, cotton dresses, jersey lounge pants, etc. make amazing cleaning cloths. If you don’t want to go out and buy reusable rags or washcloths, make your own!
Simply cut up old clothing into squares or rectangles (or pentagons, or hexagons, or whatever your shape of choice is) and clean your dirty ass apartment with your new nifty upcycled rags.
Already got rags on rags on rags?
There are tons of amazing sustainable resources and organizations that will take your too-far-gone clothing, accessories and textile items, and repurpose them for other uses. Uses like making home insulation, pillow stuffing, car seat stuffing, and even “new” fabric made from recycled fibers.
Here are some great textile recycling programs and resources to help you recycle anything from socks, to athletic shoes, to bras, old fleeces and everything in-between:
Terracycle Fabrics and Clothing Zero Waste Box: Purchase a box to fill with clothing and fabric to ship to Terracycle to be repurposed.
The Bra Recyclers: An organization that will find a way to recycle, reuse or repurpose bras. You can find a drop-off station or mail old bras directly to them.
Council for Textile Recycling: Find clothing donation drop-offs and textile recycling resources all across the US. Keep in mind the donation suggestions might not recycle “unwearable” textiles. I recommend calling the individual recommended locations before making a drop-off.
GemText: Free textile recycling based in the Pacific Northwest.
Soles 4 Souls: A national shoe recycling program.
Green Tree: Free textile recycling drop-offs located at specific NYC farmers’ markets.
Wearable Collections: NYC-based clothing recycling pick up service.
Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles: An online platform that will help you find the nearest textile recycling outlets near you.
H&M, Don’t Let Fashion Go To Waste – You can drop off your textiles from any brand, in any condition, at any H&M store globally and they’ll recycle it for you. I recommend calling ahead though to your local H&M before to double check and make sure store employees know you’re coming by.
Donation Town: A site that helps you find a local clothing donation pick-up service in your area.
Nike, Reuse-A-Shoe: Nike collects old athletic shoes from any brand that they grind up and use to create courts, fields, tracks and playgrounds.
Patagonia, Common Threads – Bring back your unwanted Patagonia clothing and accessories to any Patagonia store and they’ll recycle it and give you store credit!
The North Face, Clothes the Loop – Recycling clothing and shoes from any brand at North Face stores.
There are probably hundreds more I haven’t mentioned, but hopefully through one of these resources, you’ll be able to find a way to make sure none of your textiles ever end up in a landfill again – yep, even those ugly red MAGA hats. Hopefully those will be shredded up for car seat stuffing…