Did you know that the EPA estimates that textiles make up 5% of all landfills in the US?
Or that only 15% of unwanted clothing is actually recycled?
Or that the average US citizen throws away an estimated 70 lbs worth of textile waste annually?
When we think of waste, we often envision things like crushed up plastic water bottles, soiled food wrappers and dirty diapers – not a perfectly wearable pair of jeans that got thrown away just because they don’t fit anymore (raise your hand if you’re guilty).
Even in the case of an old stained t-shirt or pair of shredded underwear (like waaaay past the emergency-laundry-day underwear stage) there are plenty of textile recycling programs to keep even the most unwearable items out of landfills.
First and foremost, I’m a proponent of being a conscious consumer. Purchasing clothing you know you love and will wear often, or doing like I do, and purchasing clothing secondhand that is already in the waste stream. It’s a deeper issue than just finding solutions for what to do with all your old clothing – ultimately, the bigger solution is shifting our buy-what-you-want-for-cheap-and-then-toss-it culture, to one of buying what you love and what will last.
But, if you’ve got a giant bag full of Ed Hardy graphic tees and gaucho pants from your not-so-consciously-consuming days collecting dust in the back of your closet, here’s how to keep them out of the trash and out of your sight.
“Recycling” clothing doesn’t necessarily mean only sending it to get shredded up and turned into something new. Recycling can simply mean passing items on to be used and loved by someone else.
If you want your clothing to live on, but don’t want to mess with reselling, donating your items to a local homeless shelter or community center in your town is an amazing option to help others while keeping your clothing out of landfills. First though, make sure there is an actual need for the clothing items you have before just dropping them off. Donating isn’t an excuse to just pawn your unwanted clothing onto someone else that also doesn’t want or need them.
Also, make sure to only donate items in good, wearable condition though. Don’t just use a clothing donation drop off as your “trash can” for your smelly old gym socks with holes in the toes. Though the practices vary between organizations, they might end up sending unwearable items to landfills, defeating the whole the purpose of why we’re here in the first place, right?
So what do you do with your items that just can’t even anymore? I recommend two options:
Old t-shirts, cotton dresses, jersey lounge pants, etc. make amazing cleaning cloths. If you don’t want to go out and buy reusable rags or washcloths, make your own!
Simply cut up old clothing into squares or rectangles (or pentagons, or hexagons, or whatever your shape of choice is) and clean your dirty ass apartment with your new nifty upcycled rags.
Already got rags on rags on rags?
There are tons of amazing sustainable resources and organizations that will take your too-far-gone clothing, accessories and textile items, and repurpose them for other uses. Uses like making home insulation, pillow stuffing, car seat stuffing, and even “new” fabric made from recycled fibers.