Zero Waste: Recycling Old Clothes

Jan, 21, 2021

I think its safe to say that, when I get dressed in the morning or when I buy new clothes, I dont think too much about what effect these clothes have on the environment. Dont get me wrong: I really try to buy as many organic and eco-friendly clothes as possible. And I practice quality over quantity, so I have a minimal closet. As well, I buy used clothing; I borrow clothes; and I accept hand-me-downs from friends. But the reality is that I do have three children who end up with clothes that are tornor stained and need to be tossed.

Until a couple of years ago, I did not know about textile productions effect on our planet.

The sad part is that most old clothes and textiles will end up in a landfill eventually. About 11.1 million tons of textiles such as t-shirts, pants, blankets, tablecloths, sheets and baby clothes are thrown into the trash and then into landfills in the U.S. each year. Now, if everyone would get into the habit of coming up with clever ways to reuse, recycle and donate old textiles, it would be more sustainable.

 What is the solution? Reusing and recycling old things, and preventing them from going into the landfill are great ways to reduce the use of raw materials and energy, air pollution and water pollution, waste and greenhouse emissions. The next time you have a bag of old textiles, take a moment to research where you can donate them, and keep them out of the landfill because ruined and stained textiles do not belong in landfills. Currently, textiles account for 5.2% of the wastein landfills. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average person discards 70 pounds of clothing per year despite the fact that there are recyclers who accept all fabrics in various conditions.

 The good news is that today there are many zero waste and eco-friendly ways to discard your old clothes … even your undergarments and socks

Donate—A great option for whole and clean unwanted clothes is to donate them to secondhand shops. Make sure, however, that you donateonly wearable clothes in good condition instead of using donation sites as your “trash can.” 

Resell—For clean and nice unwanted clothes, why not make some money by selling them on eBay.com or Thredup.com

Clothing take-back—Many clothing and shoe businesses are trying to close the textile waste loop by offering a clothing take-back for a credit at their stores. For example, at Patagonia retail locations, customers can trade in their used gear and obtain credit toward another new item. The same goes with H&M and Nike; and usually they will accept any textiles,not just their own brand garments. Levi Strauss & Co offers a $10 voucher to customers who drop off a clean, dry item of clothing or a pair of shoes at its stores. The voucher can be used in any U.S. Levis store (outlets included) toward the purchase of regular-priced, in-store Levis.

Recycle—Some places have textile recycling where any old worn out clothes, including underwear and socks, can be discarded. On Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles, you can find your nearest drop-off location. As well, at Recyclenow.com you also can find the nearest textile recycling bin. A wonderful company, Terracycle’s whole business is to recycle and upcycle old stuff, so you can order a box for textile recycling from them. Nike and H&M also collect old worn clothes for recycling.

Blue Jeans Go Green—This program collects denim across the country and recycles the worn fabric into insulation. The Blue Jeans Go Green program keeps textile waste out of landfills and helps with building efforts in communities around the country.

Repurpose—On Pinterestand YouTube there are tips for repurposing old clothes. You can also check out this link for ideas.

Fredrika Syren

Fredrika Syren is an environmental activist and writer. In 2016, she founded the website Green-Mom.com where she shared her family’s journey of living zero waste. She lives in San Diego, California with her husband James and their children Bella, Noah, and Liam. Fredrika and her family were recently featured in the documentary Zero Time to Waste. Fredrika is also the author of Zero Waste for Families - A Practical Guidebook (which you can buy on this site)

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