Finally got round to reorganising your wardrobe and left with lots of clothes you no longer want? It's not always easy to figure out what to do with old fabric.
Just under 336,000 tonnes of clothing ends up in the bin across the country every year and a staggering $30 billion worth of unused clothing is still sitting in our wardrobes nationwide.
The good news is that whatever their state, there's plenty of sustainable things you can do to reuse and recycle old clothes, rather than throwing them away.
The Big Problem with Textile Waste
According to the EPA, 16.9 million tons of textile and fabric was thrown out in 2017, counting for 6.3% of all municipal solid waste. This means each person in the country is throwing out about 100 pounds of old clothing a year! Of the almost 17 million tons of textile waste, 11.2 million tons made it to landfills and the majority of waste is old clothing. Worse, 95% of used textiles can be recycled, but 85% end up in landfills anyway.
While textile waste isn’t a new issue, it is getting worse. The volume of clothing people throw away has doubled in less than 20 years, from 7 million tons to 14 million. That’s not to say your old t-shirts from high school should stay in your closet forever, but we need to think consciously about what we do with our clothes after we clean out our closets.
- Look into textile recycling near you.
- Donate them to places that take old clothing.
- Talk to thrift shops.
- Drop them off at stores that will help.
- See if they can be composted.
- Turn them into rags to use around your house.
- Look up other textile recycling programs near you.
- Local animal shelters (or make your own pet beds to donate by filling a pillowcase with scraps and sewing the opening closed)
- Art teachers/elementary schools/home school groups.
- High school sewing classes.
- Local prison inmate sewing programs.
- Local Girl Scout or Boy Scout groups.
Here is what you can do with old clothes that you can't donate anymore.
- Drop them off at an animal rescue.
- Compost Natural Fabrics.
- Reusable Tote Bags.
- Apparel Recycling Programmes.
- Art Refresh Old Clothes.
- Kids Dress-Up Box.
- Garage Sales.
- Clothing Swap Party.
Charity shops also take bolts of fabric, so if you are having a proper clear out in your fabric stash and you want your fabrics to go to a new home in a charitable way, you could go down this route as well.
Here are seven signs to consider when getting rid of clothes.
- It Has Stains, Holes, or a Smell. This might seem like an obvious sign.
- You No Longer Love It.
- It's From an Outdated Trend.
- It Hasn't Fit in a Year.
- You Haven't Worn It in a Year
- It No Longer Fits Your Style.
- It's Uncomfortable.
What About Donating Our Old Clothes?
There is a common misconception that the best, easiest, and most sustainable way to get rid of your old, outdated, or broken items is by donating them. These organizations generally accept everything that is dropped off at their donation stations, but not everything is ultimately usable.
According to the Council for Textile Recycling, only about 20% of clothing that gets donated is sold by the donation organization! Now Goodwill is left having to deal with the other 80%.
And what even happens to the 80% not sold by the donation organization? Nearly half of all donated clothing (almost 1 billion pounds) is exported to third world countries to be resold in “bend over” markets.
The effects of this practice are debated, but it’s safe to say, it has definitely made a huge, often negative, impact on the economy of these countries. Some countries in East Africa, including Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, and Tanzania, have even proposed banning imported used clothing altogether.
So before you go to donate all your unwanted clothes at the nearest Goodwill, make sure to take the time to go through all of your discarded clothing and pick out the more recent pieces that are still in good condition that would have the best chance of being resold.
As for the remaining pieces? Keep reading for some ideas.
What To Do With Old Clothes
Clothes That Are Too Worn To Wear
Transform And Upcycle Into Something New
Clothes that are damaged, stained or holey can be given to textile and fabric recycling (see below) or use parts of them to create new items such as face masks, padding for chairs, car seats, cleaning cloths, and industrial blankets.
Check Out Local Textile & Fabric Recycling Spots
Any clothing that isn’t good enough to be passed on can still be given a new life via clothing banks. You can find clothing and textile banks in supermarkets and local car parks.
Ask Your Council About Textile Collections
Many local councils offer clothes and textiles collections, so it’s always worth checking this out on local council websites. These collections are free to use and easy and they will be put to good use.
Give To An Animal Shelter
Animal shelters often use old clothes, towels, and other old fabric and textiles for the animals they have in their care. They use them to clean, make beds and blankets, and help the shelter feel more like home for the animals. Consider bringing old sweaters and t-shirts to help a fluffy friend in need.
Clothes That Still Have Life In Them
Donate To Charity
Clothes that are in good condition can be passed on to local charity shops, or there are often charities that will do collections. Uniforms and company-branded clothing are harder to get rid of but it's worth asking your employers to look into this for you. Old school uniforms can be donated through ‘old school uniform’, or your local school uniform store might have a second-hand rail.
Pass On Or Hand Them Down
Hand-me-downs are an excellent option as children grow as they're both environmentally friendly and save lots of money over the years. This can also be a great solution between friends, if say you’ve changed sizes and want your clothes to go to a loving home, gift them to a friend that fits! Remember to be honest about any damage, make sure they want and will use them, and wash the clothes before you pass them along.
Rent Your Clothes
Renting out clothes is a great option if you need space but don’t want to completely say goodbye. Spread the joy of a gorgeous garment and make a few pounds in the process. Equally, if there’s no more room in your closet but you want a stand-out outfit for a one-off occasion, renting might be the solution for you!
Swap Your Old Clothes
See if those closest to you – family, friends or flatmates – are up for exchanging a few items, so you all get some new pieces for free! Swapping will be easier with those you already live with or are in a social bubble with. You could also hold an outdoor meet up and get everyone to bring a few bits along.
Trade Your Clothes For Cash
If you want to turn your old clothes into cash, it’s easy to do and there are lots of different options. If an item is a bit faulty (missing button or the hem has fallen down), you can still sell it to someone who is willing to repair it. Just make sure to put all the wear and tear details in the description when you list the item.
Children can seem to be growing faster than you can buy new clothes, which can leave a large pile of outgrown clothes still in good nick.
Things To Do With Old Clothes That You Can't Donate
Only clean clothes in very good condition can be donated. As you are going through old clothing, you might be scratching your head wondering what to do with clothes that aren’t in good enough condition to donate. Perhaps you inherited a house full of stuff, or you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to clean out your closet.
There are many different options for what to do with clothes that aren’t in excellent condition. From textile recycling to t-shirt tote bags, we’ve got you covered with a list of things to do with old clothes that you can’t donate:
Hand-me-downs are both environmentally and also budget-friendly. If you have friends or family with younger children, hand-me-downs are an excellent option.
If you have expensive baby or toddler clothing, sometimes you can even sell these items in “play condition.” Just make sure to be honest about any damage, wash the clothes before you pass them along, and post a picture of the item.
Stretch old clothes over a canvas or make a patchwork poster. Cut the design out of an old t-shirt and frame it. Turn socks into adorable sock monkeys. Get creative, there are truly endless possibilities.
Any item of clothing can become a rag. In fact, ditching paper towels and using old clothing instead is an amazing step towards a greener household. Rags can be used for cleaning the kitchen and bathroom, cleaning up spills, or even washing your car. You can truly never have enough rags, and the more you have the less laundry you have to do!
Give To An Animal Shelter
Animal shelters use old clothes, towels, and other textiles for the animals in their care. They use them to clean, make beds and blankets, and help the shelter feel more like home for the animals. Consider bringing old sweaters and t-shirts to help a fluffy friend in need.
If you have old clothing that is 100% cotton, we have good news for you. Cotton can be composted! Silk, wool, cashmere, hemp, bamboo, and linen clothing can also be composted. When you compost, you are turning these fabrics back into soil that can grow vegetables, fruits, and other plants. This is the best possible option for the environment.
Bring To A Store For A Discount
Some stores, such as H&M and Madewell will take old clothes off your hands and recycle them. As a bonus, they often offer a discount on anything you purchase that day. More and more companies are joining this movement, so if you can’t find a nearby store on this list, do a quick search for something local.
Make A Memorial Quilt Or Stuffed Animal
If you have old clothes with sentimental value or that belonged to a loved one who has passed, you can use the clothing to make a stuffed animal or quilt. These make for beautiful memorial keepsakes. If you have baby clothes that hold sentimental value, these also make beautiful stuffed animals.
Make A Dress-Up Box
Kids can have fun with your old clothes too. Decorate a wooden crate or box and fill it with old clothes, scarves, hats, and shoes. You will be amazed by how imaginative your kids can be with old clothes. Your clothes make for the best playtime dress-up.
Send Back To The Manufacturer
Some manufacturers take responsibility for the full life-cycle of their clothing and will recycle clothes that you send back to them. Patagonia is an example of a company that offers this and will also give you store credit.
If you are unable to donate clothes because they are torn or missing a button, try repairing them. Whether it’s mending a tear, replacing a button, or patching a hole in your favorite jeans, there are easy fixes you can do at home.
If there’s something in your wardrobe that you can’t imagine life without, don’t buy a new version. First, try to repair it. If you are unable to repair it, you can always take it to a local tailor or ask a crafty friend for help. You can either enjoy your clothes in their repaired state or donate them if they’re now in good enough condition.
Turn T-Shirts Into Bags
T-shirts make supremely cute tote bags. This is a very environmentally friendly way to upcycle your old t-shirts. Skip the plastic or brown paper bags at the grocery store, and don’t waste money and resources on store-bought reusable bags that are often made of plastic.
Use Fabrics As Patches
Perhaps your favorite jeans have holes, or you just want to spice up a pair of old pants. Use a t-shirt, flannel, or anything colorful to create patches for your pants.
Make A Pocket Scarf Or Handkerchief
Just like eliminating paper towels, using handkerchiefs instead of tissues is great for the environment. Cut squares out of old clothing and make fashionable pocket squares or practical handkerchiefs.
You truly have endless options for clothing that can’t be donated. All it takes is a bit of creativity. If you want to cherish the clothes you're holding on to, there are simple ways to make them last longer, such as washing at a lower temperature and cutting down on ironing and tumble drying.