How and Where to Donate Your Used Clothes

November 20, 2023

How & Where to donate your used clothes

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Your clothes don’t fit anymore, or maybe they’re outdated but still in good condition. What should you do with them? The first thought most of us have is to donate. I’ve donated plenty of discarded clothes over the years. In my mind, they were enjoying a second life … somewhere. But what really happens to your unwanted clothes? And how and where can you donate your used clothes? Let’s explore.

where to donate clothes

What really happens to your unwanted clothes?

The answer might surprise you. More than half of donations made in the U.S. end up overseas, particularly in East and West Africa and Eastern Europe. Only a small fraction, about 10 to 30 percent, are actually resold domestically. Unfortunately, as you can imagine, this export of clothing, roughly 700,000 tons, significantly disrupts local textile industries in these regions, often negatively affecting local clothing markets and economies.

And there’s more to the story. A considerable portion of the donated items, especially those that are not in great condition, don’t get a chance at a second life. Instead, they are either incinerated or dumped into landfills, contributing to the vast 92 million tons of global textile waste.

I don’t know about you, but this isn’t the outcome I envisioned for my donated clothes.

where to donate clothes
Image Source: The New Daily

So, what are our options?

Considering these realities, what’s the best approach for fashion enthusiasts? Keep every single item until our closets are overflowing? Or vow never to shop again? Neither option is really realistic for most of us, at least not for me.

Alternatives To Donating

The good news is, there’s a variety of eco-friendly and responsible alternatives to just donating clothes that no longer “spark joy,” as Marie Kondo would say. These options offer sustainable ways to manage our wardrobe without contributing to the issues associated with traditional clothing donation.

1. Recycle Old Clothing & Textiles

Recycling old clothes and fabric scraps is a great way to keep textile waste out of landfills! In addition, many fabric recycling facilities will repurpose these unwanted textiles, transforming them into a variety of new products.

Here’s a quick list of recycling programs you can check out :

  • American Textile Recycling Services collects donations at drop-off locations and then sorts through everything. (To Find a drop-off location in your neighborhood, call their 24-hour Hotline at 866-900-9308). 
  • Council for Textile Recycling (FYI, the website’s locator tool is a bit wonky at the moment. I recommend calling before making a drop-off).
  • Simple Recycling offers curbside pickup in certain cities! Check to see if they’re available in your city here.
  • Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles (SMART) Association is a great resource for finding local textile recycling bins and programs.
  • Goodwill accepts ALL textile donations in any condition (except wet or contaminated with hazardous materials) so they can be reused or recycled into new products. (Call ahead for recycling specifics).
  • Recycle your old clothes through programs such as For DaysTake Back Bag” or Terracycle’s Fabrics and Clothing Zero Waste Box. (NOTE: Terracycle can get a bit pricey, so I recommend getting a group of friends together to make this option more cost-effective).
  • Recycle Now For those in the U.K., this site helps find recycling bins.
  • Local Textile Recycling: Google “textile recycling options near me” to find facilities in your area.

Recycle Shoes

  • Nike Reuse-A-Shoe program takes your old athletic shoes and repurposes them into new courts, fields, tracks, and playgrounds.
  • The North Clothes The Loop program recycles any old clothes and shoes, regardless of their condition or brand. You can find a North Face retail store near you in North America to participate in this program

Recycle Blue Jeans

  • Cotton’s Blue Jeans Go Green specializes in transforming old jeans into housing insulation, which is a great way to give your denim a new purpose.

2. Sell or Swap Your Gently Used Clothes

Sell your clothes: Clothes Still in Good Condition? Consider Selling! If your clothes are still in great shape, think about selling them. You can opt for online platforms or local consignment shops, ideal for items that are like new or gently worn

Check out my post ‘How to Thrift + 10 Online Thrift Stores,’ for an easy-to-follow guide filled with thrifting tips and online thrift stores recommendations.

Clothing Swap: Why not organize a clothing swap party? It’s a fun, sustainable way to update your wardrobe with ‘new-to-you’ fashion (how to host a clothing swap party). 

3. Mend Your Clothes

Don’t be quick to discard clothes that need some fixing. For minor repairs, like sewing on a button or patching a small tear, I tackle them myself. However, for more complex mending that’s out of my skill set, I turn to the skilled tailor at my local dry cleaners, who always does a fantastic job. And for those who love a good DIY project, Eco-Age offers an insightful post titled ‘The Most Common Ways to Mend Your Clothes.’ It’s a treasure trove of practical advice and creative solutions for various clothing repairs, perfect for both beginners and seasoned DIYers looking to enhance their mending skills

4. Upcycle

Revamp your old shirts into handy rags, or get creative with DIY projects. Those unwanted and overused clothes in your wardrobe can be reborn as unique pillow stuffers, handmade tote bags, or any other creative idea you dream up. I frequently upcycle old sheets and shirts into rags, which serve as a great alternative to paper towels!

5. Compost your clothes

Transform your 100% natural fiber garments (like linen or hemp) into compost! Heads-up, synthetic fibers are not compostable. So, always check your labels – even a ‘cotton’ shirt might have non-compostable polyester stitching, which won’t break down. That said, if you find any synthetic threads, they can usually be removed after the rest of the fabric has decomposed.

Pro Tip: when composting natural fabric cut or tear your clothes into smaller pieces. Doing so will speed up the decomposition process.

6. Donate clothing to a specific charity.

  • Dress for Success and 100 Suits provide professional attire for both men and women and tools for career success.
  • I support the girls This organization focuses on providing bras and menstrual products to girls and women facing homelessness.
  • From the Sole is a non-profit that donates shoes to homeless communities in NYC and around the world.
  • Soles4Souls creates sustainable jobs and provides relief through the distribution of shoes and clothing. 
  • Becca’s Closet Provides prom dresses to high school girls in financial need.
  • Operation Prom is a national non-profit offering free prom attire (tuxedos and dresses) to low-income students.
  • The Bra Recyclers, this for-profit recycler, focuses on repurposing bras, aiding women and girls affected by domestic violence, drug addiction, human trafficking, and breast cancer survivors.

Additional Tips for Donating Clothes:

  1. Check with Organizations: Goodwill and the Salvation Army are valuable but can be overwhelmed with donations. A quick call can confirm their current needs before you donate.
  2. Prepare Your Clothes: Always clean and repair your items. Tattered or dirty clothes aren’t suitable for donation.
  3. Seasonal Donations Matter: Align your donations with the season. For instance, save heavy coats and sweaters for colder months instead of donating them during summer.

Ok, so there you have it — a few alternatives to your traditional donating practices. I’ll continue adding and updating this post with the most accurate links and resources. In the meantime, here’s to embracing sustainable ways of parting with your unwanted items.

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