Recycling Old Clothing Into Something New

Have you looked at your wardrobe and started wondering how to start recycling old clothing? As you work on decluttering the closet in the coming months, stop to think about the impact of your closet clean out.  What are you doing with your old clothes?  Donating used clothes is a great choice.  But what happens to clothes that are beyond repair and reuse?  Did you know that textile recycling is gaining in popularity?

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collage of upcycled old clothing made into bags and bags of old clothes at a recycling center


Old clothes gain new life as something other than clothes when you recycle them.  Donate used clothing whenever possible, and then learn how to recycle old clothing to go one step further. Its a great way to ensure that you create a sustainable closet

Textile Recycling and the Carbon Impact of Clothing

Textile recycling has become a booming new business in the last decade. Given our unrelenting love of clothes shopping and a surge in easy green living tips (I’d like to think they’re connected), recycling old clothing is a no-brainer. Despite the fact that closets overflow with clothes that aren’t worn or needed, it’s hard to resist a good sale on a sexy pair of black skinny jeans.

But getting rid of old clothes can leave a deep carbon footprint when done improperly. If your drawers need to be thinned, consider recycling old clothes to reduce your shopping spree’s impact on the environment.

More Sustainable Decluttering Tips 

patches on jeans

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How to Get Clothes to Last Longer

Recycling old clothes and donating them to a thrift store should be the last choice option.  Learning how to get clothes to last longer means more money saved and less impact on our environment.  Here are a few tips to get your clothing to last longer:

  • Buy Quality  Yes, there really is a big difference between a well-made piece of clothing and stuff you find at the dollar store.  Spend money up front on high quality clothes if you want them to last a while. 
  • Use a Delicates Bag Using a mesh laundry bag to protect delicate clothing will keep them lasting longer. 
  • Carry a Stain Removal Pen Spot treat stains immediately with a stain removal pen so it doesn’t permanently ruin your clothing. 
  • Wash Less often This is incredibly important.  Clothing really doesn’t need to be washed after every wear unless it is a set of workout clothes. 
  • Don’t Dry Clean Often Dry cleaning is harsh on clothing.  Do this as infrequently as possible. 
  • Wash in cold water Hot water is harsh on clothes.  Check out my laundry tips on washing clothes in cold water
  • Reduce the Amount of Detergent. Detergent residue will ruin your clothing.  Use less to extend the life of your clothing. 
  • Wash Dark Clothing Inside Out.  This helps prevent fading over time and will keep clothes looking like new. 

pile of old jeans

Environmental Effects of Clothes in Landfills

When you toss an old shirt, the impact on the environment is bigger than you may think. Your shirt goes from trash can to landfill, degrading slowly and releasing harmful methane gas into whichever ecosystem this landfill was built in.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions in the U.S. The Huffington Post says methane is known to be 28 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat.

That means your unwanted shirt is directly affecting global warming. There are plenty of alternatives to throwing away your unwanted clothes that you should consider instead. Recycling old clothing is one way to keep them out of landfills.

used clothing on hangers in thrift store

Where to Donate Old Clothes

According to Vox Magazine, 25 billion pounds of textiles are generated in the United States per year alone, not including imports. That’s about 82 pounds per resident. But there are better alternatives when it comes to cleaning out your closet. Clothes that are of no more use to you can be recycled.

Donating your old clothing to thrift stores or selling them to a consignment shop are similarly excellent ways to give new life to old clothes. Many organizations will accept used clothing, even if it’s slightly stained or worn out in certain areas. Even towns — and certain brands and retailers — have started recycling old clothing to do their part in countering climate change.

woven baskets

Textile Recycling Companies

Think your clothing item is too far gone to be useful? Turn your old clothes into rags and cleaning tools. Companies like Coastal Wipers turn various recycled clothing items into wiping cloths and shop towels. Jinja, a Portuguese company, sells a wide range of original, handcrafted products made from 100-percent recycled textiles. It offers everything from laundry baskets to placemats and decorative bowls.

As you can see, recycling your clothes can transform your dated wardrobe into something useful — even beautiful — with just a little effort into finding the right recipient and end-product. Adding them back into your home as beverage coasters can be a great conversation starter, too.

 Clothing donation box full of old clothes

Where to Begin Recycling Old Clothing

Now that you know how recycling old clothing can benefit the environment, you want to do your part. The first step is to find out how to turn your unwanted clothes over to the organizations that can actually do something with them.

Check out Earth911 for information on clothing recycling. Email your favorite retailers and brands to ask about clothing recycling, or consult Brit + Co for a list of fashion brands that offer recycling programs.

From placemats to laundry baskets, you can give new life to old clothes by jumping on the textile recycling bandwagon. Help lower landfill emissions by not ditching your old clothes in the trash. Are you recycling old clothing this month?

I encourage you to check out my article on the 6 rs of sustainability for tips on re-imagining a sustainable future. 

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