Your clothes don’t fit anymore or maybe they’re outdated, but they’re still in good condition.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, where and how can you donate your used clothes? Let’s explore.
Did You Know?
- According to Fashion For Good, by wearing your clothes for an extra nine months, you can reduce waste and water usage by 20% to 30%.
- By doubling the life of clothing from one to two years, we can help reduce emissions from clothing production and disposal by as much as 24%.
- 26% of discarded clothing was disposed of simply because we didn’t want it anymore.
- On average, 700,000 tons of used clothing gets exported overseas.
- 80% of discarded textiles on a global level are doomed for the landfill or incineration. Only 20% of textiles are actually reused or recycled.
What really happens to your unwanted clothes?
Most likely though they ended up in the landfill or overseas.
In the past, much of the clothing you most likely donated ended up being sent overseas. When used clothing goes to a developing country it takes the place of local clothing businesses trying to survive.
According to Remake, “The U.S. alone sends about 21 billion pounds of textile waste to landfills every year. And sadly, only 10-15% of donated clothing actually ends up in the secondhand market. National charities like Goodwill and the Salvation Army get more donations than they can handle, so much of it is packed up and re-sold overseas or sent to landfills. California Goodwill alone spends $7 million a year on dumping costs. So when it comes time to part with pieces in your closet, do so wisely.”
So, what’s a girl to do? Just hold on to her clothes till she runs out of space in her closet? Never buy any new clothes again? Yup. Exactly. You are NEVER EVER allowed to shop again! PERIOD.
Naw, I am just joking. That’s completely unrealistic.
The good news is that there are some great options out there to help you responsibly dispose of clothes you no longer wear.
Alternatives To Donating:
Recycling old clothes and fabric scraps is a great way to keep textile waste out of the landfill! In addition, many fabric recycling facilities will find another use for your unwanted textiles and turn them into new products. Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program converts old athletic shoes into courts, fields, tracks, and playgrounds. Cotton’s Blue Jeans Go Green program takes old jeans and converts them into housing insolation!
Here are just a few of the amazing recycling programs you can take advantage of!
Old clothing & textiles:
- American Textile Recycling Services, which collects donations at drop-off locations, then sorts through everything. (To Find a drop off location in your neighborhood and make a clothing donation, you can call their 24-Hour Hotline 866-900-9308).
- Search for a local textile recycling facility (Google “textile recycling options near me” to find one in your neck of the woods).
- 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 that will help you find local textile recycling bins and programs in your area!
- Goodwill accepts ALL textile donations, in any condition (except wet or contaminated with hazardous materials) so they can be re-used or recycled into new products. I recommend calling ahead to confirm they’ll accept your old textiles to be recycled.
- You can also recycle your old clothes through programs such as For Days “Take Back Bag” or Terracycle’s Fabrics and Clothing Zero Waste Box. (NOTE: Terracycle can get a bit pricey so I would recommend getting a group of friends together to make this option more cost-effective).
- H&M offers a “Garment Collecting Program” – Take any unwanted clothes or textiles, by any brand and in any condition, to any of their stores. I suggest you call a store ahead of time just to make sure they know you’re coming and are offering this service at their store!
- Recycle Now is another great website that helps you find bins if you’re in the UK.
- Nike has a Reuse-A-Shoe program where they take old athletic shoes, grind them up, and use them to create courts, fields, tracks, and playgrounds.
- The North Face’s “Clothes The Loop” program will recycle old clothes and shoes (any condition, any brand). Click here to find a The North Face retail store near you in North America.
- Recycle your blue jeans at Blue Jeans Go Green. This program takes old jeans and converts them into housing insolation.
- Levi’s also has a great denim recycling program, check it out here and
Clothes still in good condition?
2. Sell your clothes online
Consider hosting a clothes swap (how to host a clothing swap party) or selling your clothes online or at your local thrift store.
Online thrift stores:
- thred UP,
- Goodwill online,
- Nuuly Thrift
- Worn Wear (used Patagonia products)
- Check out Bunz. Trade your stuff locally and sustainably on Bunz.
I often will take old shirts and turn them into rags. You can also use old clothes for DIY projects! Apparently, they make for great pillow stuffers and handmade tote bags.
4. Compost your clothes
If you have clothes that are 100% natural fiber (e.g., linen, hemp, etc.), then you might consider composting them! Word of caution: Synthetic fibers are not compostable. So be sure to check your labels because a “cotton” shirt may use polyester thread in the stitching, which won’t break down. That said, these threads should be easy enough to remove once everything else has decomposed.
Tip: when composting natural fabric best to tear/cut up your clothes first. Doing so will speed up the decomposing process.
5. Donate gently used clothing to a specific charity
- Dress for success provides professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.
- I support the girls provides bras and menstrual hygiene products for girls and women experiencing homelessness.
- From the Sole is a non-profit organization collecting and giving shoes to homeless communities in New York City and around the world.
- Soles4Souls creates sustainable jobs and provides relief through the distribution of shoes and clothing.
- Becca’s Closet collects and distribute dresses to high school girls with financial need.
- Operation Prom is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that helps low-income students attend their proms by providing free prom dresses and tuxedos.
- The Bra Recyclers is a for-profit clothing recycling company whose goal is to ignite a ‘Bra-volution’ to recycle, reuse or repurpose bras while providing substantial social benefits to women and girls escaping domestic violence, drug addiction, human trafficking and breast cancer survivors.
A few extra tips:
- Organizations like Goodwill and Salvation Army are a great resource as well but often get too many donations and/or aren’t in need of what you’re donating. My recommendation is to call ahead to see what their needs actually are before you drop off your bags of unwanted items.
- Please always wash and mend your clothes before donating. No one wants your old holey and smelly shirts or jeans.
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