We’ve all been there. You open up your closet to put away your jeans, and out topples that single-wear dress you wore fore a wedding, that ugly sweater your aunt bought that you were too polite to refuse, and those “may-come-in-useful-one-day” tees which have been haphazardly stacked in the corner. It’s time for a cleanse; but what to do with all these clothes? According to the EPA, over 10 million tons of textiles were sent to landfill in 2015, and only 14.2% of all shoes and clothing were recycled that same year. That was five years ago, and those figures have only grown more extreme. The amount of energy and water used from the growing and harvesting of resources, to the manufacturing and distribution of clothes, is alarming. Even more alarming is that many of these items will only be worn a handful of times before they are tossed in the trash, because people simply do not know what else to do with them. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to responsibly re-home or reuse your unwanted items.
Donation for reuse
One of the easiest and most common ways to de-clutter your closet is to donate them for resale to any number of charitable organizations. Salvation Army, Goodwill or your local charity store will be glad to take your items and use the profits for a good cause. There are even specific outlets where you can donate more niche items such as eyewear and specialty gear that will either be resold or donated to those in need. Try a web search for ‘X donation near me’ - and you’ll likely be amazed at your options. That being said, many people abuse these systems and hand in bag full of sub-standard clothing that cannot be resold: stained, holey and raggedy materials that unfortunately get sent straight to the dump. If making a donation, please check all of your items carefully to make sure they are in a saleable condition – nobody wants your holey pajamas!
Many communities are starting to run ‘clothes swaps’ whereby everyone brings a certain number of unwanted items, and gets to swap them for the same number of somebody else’s items. These can be large scale or between you and a group of friends, and are a great way to revitalize your closet without spending a thing. You also get the satisfaction of knowing that your third-favorite jacket (which didn’t survive the clothing cull) is in a friendly pair of hands.
Recycle using local drop-off or via mail
There are some clothes that are past their sell-by date and wouldn’t do so well if put up for resale. Recycling clothes isn’t something that has been so easy in the past, but there are emerging schemes and initiatives that aim to turn your tattered clothing into something else. Earth911 has a great locator tool for finding your nearest recycle point for a whole host of items, not just clothes.
Consumers aren’t the only ones responsible for the ethical disposal of clothing; many retailers are climbing on board to do their part also, offering incentives and trade-ins for your old items – which they then recycle. Did you know that you can take any unwanted clothing to H&M or The North Face and leave it in their collection bin? Or that Nike will accept your old shoes and recycle them into more shoes, playgrounds or sports fields? Or even that several leading jeans retailers will give you 20% off your next purchase, in exchange for your old denim? That’s right, you could save money by handing in your old gear next time you hit the shops.
If you have way more old clothing than you could ever bundle into a high street store, then consider mail options such as TerraCycle. You simply need to purchase a box and mail them your items. Bonus: It’s not just limited to clothes!
Upcycle and downcycle: What’s the difference?
You’ve heard of recycle, but what on earth are upcycling and downcycling? Downcycling is a common method for putting old clothes to use around the house, and a sure fire way get maximum use out of your clothing once you no longer want to wear them. The value of the clothing is decreased - by turning it into cloths or rags, for example - but it still retains a useful purpose. Gone are the days where you need to purchase special cloths for cleaning counters, to dry your hands, or wash the car. If you take a look at the fabrics used in these ‘specialty’ items and your clothes, you’ll notice that they primarily use the same things! Save yourself some money and put your old rags to use around the house instead. You could even take a leaf out of my nana’s book - who uses old boots as flower pots. Yes, really.
In contrast, upcycling turns old items into something of higher value, like fabric off-cuts being woven together to create a brand-new bag. Upcycling uses materials which are already in existence to create new and often artistic pieces. There may well be local upcycling facilities near you, to which you can drop-off or mail your old clothes; or even a community space where upcycling connoisseurs teach you how to do it yourself. There are a multitude of benefits to upcycling your items: it closes the loop that sees so many items thrown in the trash, it saves a whole load of water and energy that ‘virgin’ clothing uses in its manufacturing process, and it returns value to items that would otherwise be discarded. Who knows, if you get really good at it you could even start a nice side-earner yourself! For more information about upcycling and its benefits, check out some of our work at Looptworks.
Our impact on the planet is more evident than ever before. The clothing industry has a huge part to play in this, and there is a lot of work to be done to ensure that sustainable practices are upheld going forward. I hope in reading this you will never feel the need to throw out your old clothing, as there are a plethora of alternatives to be used instead. Just remember the old saying: One girl’s old dress is another girls leather. Or... something like that.