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7+ Tips On How To Recycle Clothes

Tips On How To Recycle Clothes

Have you ever wondered how your old clothes and fabrics can be transformed into new and useful products? Or did you know that fabric recycling not only helps reduce waste but also protects the environment?

Fabric recycling is becoming an important trend in our daily lives, as it is a great way to conserve precious resources and minimize negative environmental impacts. Join WELL FABRIC as we explore how to recycle clothes and discover how we can contribute to protecting our planet.

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1. The Reality Of Textile Waste

The Reality Of Textile Waste

Data from the Environmental Protection Agency paints a concerning picture of textile waste issues. In 2018, over 17 million tons of urban waste were generated, with 5.8% being textile waste. Sadly, only 14.7% of that was recycled, leaving a significant amount of textile waste ending up in landfills or being incinerated.

This figure is truly alarming when compared to the recycling rates of aluminum (34.9%) and glass (31.3%) in the same year.

The problem with sending textile waste to landfills is not only an environmental concern but also a serious issue. Understanding how to recycle clothes is essential in addressing this issue. Natural fibers take years to decompose in landfills, contributing to the accumulation of waste.

On the other hand, synthetic textiles not only do not biodegrade but can also leach harmful substances into the soil and groundwater, posing a threat to the environment.

In New York state alone, residents and businesses dispose of nearly 1.4 billion pounds of textile waste each year, including clothing, shoes, belts, hats, bags, curtains, towels, bedding, and other linen that could be reused or recycled. This highlights the significant potential for recycling and reusing textile items to reduce waste.

In the United States, textile waste is one of the fastest-growing waste streams, with an average person discarding 81 pounds of clothing annually. Although efforts have been made to recycle approximately 15% of post-consumer textile waste, there is still a long way to go.

Increasing awareness of how to recycle clothes and promoting recycling initiatives can help divert textile waste from landfills and incinerators, leading to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to textile consumption.

2. Benefits of fabric recycling

2.1. Environmental Benefits

Benefits of fabric recycling

Waste reduction and pollution prevention: Recycling fabric helps reduce the amount of solid waste going into landfills and minimizes the consumption of natural resources. Instead of producing new products, fabric recycling allows us to reuse existing resources, thereby reducing the need for resource extraction and minimizing waste generation.

Greenhouse gas reduction: The production of fabrics generates a significant amount of carbon emissions (approximately 1.2 billion tons of CO2 released into the environment each year), surpassing the emissions from the aviation and maritime industries combined.

This has a negative impact on climate change. By recycling fabric, we reduce the demand for new production, thereby decreasing the carbon emissions generated during the manufacturing and transportation processes.

Conservation of precious natural resources like water and fossil fuels, reducing the exploitation and consumption of limited resources.

Reduction of toxins from chemicals used in the textile production process, including pesticides, herbicides, and dyes. In particular, fabric recycling can reduce the use of pesticides as cotton plants heavily rely on toxic substances for cultivation.

2.2. Economic Benefits

Job creation: Fabric recycling creates new employment opportunities. The potential market value of used textile materials is estimated to be up to $130 million and could generate over 1,000 jobs across the state of New York if these materials are recovered and reused instead of being wasted.

Cost savings in waste management: Diverting used textiles from landfills helps reduce the cost of waste management for local governments, businesses, and individuals.

+ Supply chain preservation: Fabric recycling allows for the preservation of valuable materials within the supply chain, creating sustainable products and reducing dependence on new resources.

+ Encouragement of innovation and sustainable design: Fabric recycling encourages creativity in creating new products from old fabrics. This promotes sustainable design practices, exploring new methods, and skillfully combining different types of fabrics to produce unique and desirable products.

In conclusion, fabric recycling not only ensures environmental protection but also provides economic benefits. Promoting and participating in this recycling process contributes to building a sustainable textile industry and safeguarding our precious resources.

3. How to recycle clothes: Maximizing Recycling Methods

3.1. Categorize Clothing and Fabrics

Categorize Clothing and Fabrics

To start, sort your clothing into three different categories: good condition, usable condition, and poor condition. This sorting will give you a clear view of the condition of each item in your wardrobe.

+ The “good condition” category includes items that still look new, maintain their perfect shape, and show no signs of wear and tear. These are items that you can wear immediately or style uniquely to match your fashion taste.

+ The “usable condition” category includes items that are still wearable, although they may have some signs of use such as fading or slight wear. However, they are still in a condition that can be worn, without any stains or holes.

+ The “poor condition” category includes low-quality items with stains, frayed seams, or holes. For items in this category, you can consider repair methods, recycling, or finding ways to repurpose them to avoid waste.

Categorizing your clothing will help you manage your wardrobe more effectively, identify the items you truly need, and maximize the value of each piece.

3.2. Reselling – how to recycle clothes

Reselling - how to recycle clothes

After categorizing your clothing and fabrics, choose the “best condition” category and consider reselling them to acquaintances, friends, or those in need at a reasonable price. You can sell your items at thrift stores or consignment shops locally. Additionally, consider selling them online through reputable e-commerce platforms such as Poshmark, eBay, or Amazon.

The majority of textile waste is clothing, which is becoming easier to resell as fast fashion gains popularity. This not only saves money but also allows you to earn a small income.

3.3. Clothing Swaps and Consignment

Clothing Swaps and Consignment

Clothing and accessories in good condition are excellent options for participating in clothing swaps or consignment activities. To organize a clothing swap, invite friends of similar sizes to bring their excess items from their own wardrobes and then proceed with selecting and swapping clothing among each other.

Additionally, you can visit consignment shops to bring your used clothing and fabrics.

3.4. Donate to Charitable Organizations – How To Recycle Clothes

Several non-profit organizations accept used textiles for donation, with Goodwill and Salvation Army being popular donation points. However, there are other non-profit organizations with similar programs.

Check with your preferred charitable organization to see if they can reuse or resell your used clothing before deciding to recycle them.

Additionally, local humanitarian organizations or animal conservation preserves may not have physical stores but can still utilize items like old towels and blankets that you donate to provide comfort to their animals.

Organizations that support homeless shelters and temporary housing facilities often accept clothing donations, including curtains, bedsheets, and various types of textiles.

3.5. Recycling Programs from Major Brands

After organizing your clothes and fabric storage, check the labels of the products to see if they can be sent back. Some companies provide prepaid shipping labels to facilitate the return process.

Major brands like Nike and Patagonia have implemented recycling programs that allow customers to send back their used textile products for recycling or resale, depending on their condition. Specifically:

+ Patagonia has the Worn Wear program, where customers can mail their Patagonia products or bring them to Patagonia stores to receive shopping credits.

+ Outerknown also has a similar program, where customers can purchase products from Outerknown’s website and send them back once they are sold.

+ Eileen Fisher has the Renew program, allowing customers to return any Eileen Fisher product to their stores or by mail and receive a $5 reward card.

+ REI has the Good and Used program, where customers can return any REI-purchased gear and receive a gift card from REI.

For bags used over multiple days, customers can purchase a bag from the company and mail it back. They can send back any used textile products from any brand or condition. Customers will receive a refund in the form of Closet Cash credit to use for future purchases.

3.6. Export Programs to Developing Countries

Export Programs to Developing Countries

Old clothes are essential commodities for developing countries, especially after severe natural disasters. There are several organizations where you can donate used clothes for such cases, including Goodwill and Salvation Army, which transfer a portion of donated clothes to countries in need, including economically weak nations and African countries.

Additionally, other organizations have similar programs but only accept specific types of items. For example, Free The Girls accepts donated lingerie to sell at second-hand markets in El Salvador, Mozambique, and Costa Rica, aiming to support survivors of sex trafficking and help them achieve financial independence.

3.7. How To Recycle Clothes: Sending it to Textile Recycling Companies

Sending it to Textile Recycling Companies

Unfortunately, there are hardly any curbside textile recycling programs in the United States that accept used fabric. This means you cannot simply throw your used fabric into recycling bins. Instead, you will need to directly send them to factories, recycling facilities, or donation centers that will perform the recycling process for you.

Sort your clothing, blankets, bed sheets, etc., into separate categories to make it easier for companies to incorporate them into the recycling process.

Try searching on Google with keywords like “textile recycling near me” or “clothes recycle bin near me” to help find delivery locations in your area.

In general, here are some textile recycling programs and companies worth considering:

+ If you’re in San Francisco, there is a textile recycling program implemented by the SF Environment Department.

+ Wearable Collections is a textile recycling organization based in New York City. They collect and recycle various types of fabrics from individuals. You can also find them at Greenmarkets throughout New York City!

Currently, the WELL FABRIC brand produces and distributes sustainable natural fiber and recycled fabric products such as recycled poly, recycled cotton, etc., catering to the needs of apparel companies, aiming for commercially valuable and ethically driven products.

3.8. How To Recycle Clothes – Get Creative

How To Recycle Clothes - Get Creative

Explore the possibilities of reusing and transforming old textiles into new products, giving them a fresh lease on life. Before deciding to recycle, consider options for reusing your textile items. While recycling is a better solution than throwing them in the trash, the process of handling old textiles still requires water and energy.

Don’t rush to discard outdated clothing. Instead, you can get creative and repurpose them to create useful new items. Here are some ideas for repurposing old clothes:

+ Transform old jeans into unique handbags.

+ Turn old shirts into fashionable aprons.

+ Create small storage bags from the back pockets of clothing.

+ Make throw pillows from old garments.

+ Repurpose old clothes into gloves or socks.

+ Craft warm beanie hats from old wool clothing.

+ Use old clothes to make pet accessories.

+ Convert old clothes into stylish headbands.

+ Create indoor doormats from old clothing.

With imagination and creativity, you can make the most out of your old textiles to create unique and exciting products. Start implementing these projects and explore the joy of reusing and crafting!

4. Challenges in Clothing Recycling: Current and Future

According to estimates by the United Nations, the fashion industry contributes around 8-10% of global carbon emissions. Each year, over 100 billion clothing items are produced worldwide, and 65% of them end up in landfills within 12 months.

Landfills emit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, which are more potent in causing climate change, over 28 times compared to previous levels.

Unfortunately, only 1% of clothing is currently recycled and converted into new garments. While there are now many stores implementing recovery plans and adopting the three R’s model (Resell, Reuse, Recycle), the ability to recycle clothing once it reaches the end of its life is still limited, while the resources to produce new clothing are becoming increasingly scarce.

One of the challenges in recycling old clothing into new garments is their composition. Most clothes are made from blended fabrics, with polyester being the largest component, accounting for 54% of the global fiber production. Polyester has become a popular choice for fast fashion brands due to its low cost (polyester is only half the price of cotton).

To address these challenges and promote sustainable practices, it is crucial to understand how to recycle fabric. The circular fashion model requires the development of appropriate infrastructure and support services for recycling and recovery.

The European Union’s strategy on Circular and Sustainable Textiles aims to ensure that all textile products in the EU market have a longer lifespan and are recyclable, made from recycled fibers as much as possible by 2030.

Additionally, the EU will also implement separate collection of textile waste, similar to paper or glass collection, by 2025. By focusing on recycling and incorporating recycled fibers, we can contribute to reducing waste and conserving valuable resources in the textile industry.

5. FAQs

5.1. What types of fabrics and clothing can be donated and recycled?

It is estimated that approximately 95% of items such as clothing, shoes, and other household textiles, including bed sheets, towels, curtains, and pillowcases, can be recycled.

Even if the items are damaged, torn, stained, missing buttons, or have broken zippers and other issues, they can still be recycled. As long as they are dry, free of oil/grease, and have no foul odor (avoid using solvents like gasoline for dyeing), they can be recycled.

These items can belong to any style, age, or condition (including damaged and dirty ones), but remember they must be dry. Here are some examples:

+ Clothing: shirts, pants, jackets, suits, hats, belts, ties, gloves, scarves, socks (even singles), underwear, handbags, and backpacks.

+ Footwear: shoes, sandals, sneakers, high heels, boots, flip-flops, and slippers.

+ Household items made of fabric: curtains, drapes, bed sheets, blankets, quilts, towels, tablecloths, throws, pillows, stuffed animals, and plush toys.

Consider donating these items to ensure they are reused and help minimize waste.


5.2. Where can I donate old bed sheets near me?

If your bed sheets and bath towels are still in good condition, you can donate them to thrift stores like Salvation Army or Goodwill.

If you want to donate to homeless shelters, check with local organizations to see if they need bedding and pillows. Make sure they are cleaned before donation.

If the old bed sheets and bath towels are no longer in good condition, you can donate them to animal shelters or local animal rescue organizations. Contact them beforehand to confirm if they accept textile donations.

If you can’t find a place to donate, search on Google using keywords like “textile recycling near me” or “clothing recycling bin near me.” Many cities and states have their own websites for textile recycling. You can also check recycling programs offered by your city or state.

Lastly, if all else fails, you can repurpose old bed sheets and bath towels as rags for household use. They can be used for cleaning bathrooms, wiping mirrors, scrubbing bathtubs, and many other tasks.

5.3. How do I find consignment shops?

To find consignment shops in your city or town, simply search on the internet. You will find dozens of local shops ready to serve you. Another plus point of shopping at consignment stores is that your money stays within the local community.

5.4. How are clothes recycled?

After you send in your old clothes, recyclers who specialize in how to recycle fabric will sort them just as you did, selecting items that can be worn again and items suitable for recycling. They will carefully arrange the clothes by color and fabric type, then expertly cut them into fibers or stuffing material.

Some old clothes are meticulously transformed into high-quality rags, which are then sold by weight to various industries. Meanwhile, other garments are thoughtfully packaged and sold in convenient bundles, ready to be repurposed or transformed into new and exciting textile products.

5.5. What can I do with old shoes?

You can do similar things with shoes as you did with clothing. If the shoes and boots are in good condition, you can exchange or sell them. If the shoes are still usable, you can also donate them to others. For shoes that are no longer usable, dispose of them in textile recycling bins for proper recycling.

Sources: BBC,,

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