I’ve recently had to say goodbye to a pair of vintage jeans that are now sporting a large hole in the butt… which of course I didn’t notice until after I’d worn them for a full day. So, I started doing research about the most sustainable clothing disposal options and I thought I’d share what I found.
First let’s start with some (depressing) statistics. It’s pretty clear that fast fashion trends have shortened garment lifecycles. Americans now buy five times more clothing than they did in the 1980s, keep clothes for shorter periods, and wear them less often than ever before. A survey of British women found that they typically wore an item just seven times before discarding it. In less than 20 years, the volume of clothing Americans discard annually has doubled from 7 million to 14 million tons. That’s 80 pounds per person per year – roughly 150 billion items of clothing. (Source: Change Fashion)
So, what happens to the 150 billion items of clothing discarded annually?
Landfill or Incinerator
Most garments (approximately 84%) are simply thrown away and either incinerated or sent to a landfill. Both disposal methods wreak havoc on the environment.
In the United States, we donate only about 16% of our unwanted clothes. While donating seems like a solution to the waste problem, it’s not that simple. The “fast fashion” trend is forcing charities to process more garments in less time. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, charity retail outlets sell only 20% of the donated clothing. Almost half is exported and sold in developing countries. Some developing countries receive so much of our discarded clothing that they have proposed a ban to protect local manufacturing.
Many companies suggest bringing in your used clothes for recycling, which is where I come in. There are a lot of great sustainable resources that can help you recycle anything from old shoes to sweaters, and everything in between.
Here are a few options:
I’m not a huge fan of H&M, but they do have one of the most accessible garment recycling programs out there. H&M has garment-collecting boxes in all of their stores around the world. They advertise that you can drop off clothes and textiles from ANY brand, in ANY condition. Just ask for the garment-collecting box, often located next to the cash desks. The textiles are sent to the nearest recycling plant, where they’re sorted by hand. For every bag of textiles you drop off, you’ll receive a discount card for 15% off your next in-store purchase. Here’s where the clothes go:
Rewear – Clothing that can be worn again is marketed worldwide as secondhand goods.
Reuse – Textiles that are no longer suitable to wear are converted into other products, such as remake collections or cleaning cloths.
Recycle – Textiles that can’t be reused get a new chance as textile fibers, or are used to manufacture products such as damping and insulating materials for the auto industry.
& Other Stories
& Other Stories have established an in-store recycling program for textiles and beauty packaging.
Bring textiles from any brand (including old socks and tired towels), to any & Other Stories store and they will take on a new life as insulation material for the construction materials industry, geofleece, carpet underlay, and rear shelves in cars, stuffed toys, or shoe insoles, among other things. Bring a bag of textiles to your closest store, and get one voucher with a 10% recycling treat as a thank you.
If you live in NY, you can recycle & Other Stories’ beauty packaging by bringing back the empty containers from their colour cosmetics, bath & body and skin care ranges to the store on 575 Broadway (btw Prince/Houston). The packaging is sorted according to material and passed on to the nearest recycling station. You’ll get a voucher for 10% off.
Levi’s is now accepting unwanted clothing and shoes of any brand at all of their retail stores and outlets in the US. Every store and outlet will have a recycle box where you can drop off clothes. Any consumer who brings an item to recycle will receive a voucher for 20% off a single item.
Madewell’s Denim Donation Program takes your old jeans and donates them to make housing insulation for Habitat for Humanity builds. Stop by one of their stores with your old denim and you’ll get $20 off a new pair of Madewell jeans.
The North Face
The North Face’s Clothes the Loop program encourages people to drop off unwanted clothing and footwear at The North Face retail and outlet stores. Recycle your used apparel and footwear (any condition, any brand) at their stores and earn a $10 reward toward your next purchase of $100 or more. The items dropped in their collection bins are sent to their non-profit partner, Soles4Souls.
Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program recycles athletic shoes (any brand) at the end of their life and gives them a new life through Nike Grind. Nike Grind materials are created from recycled athletic footwear and surplus manufacturing scraps to make performance products, ranging from new footwear and apparel to sports surfaces. Just drop your used shoes off at any Nike retail store.
Donating items that are in working condition, and are free of stains and rips is the best way to ensure that your goods are accepted at Goodwill. However, they accept most clothing and household items. I would recommend calling your local Goodwill organization to find out whether they will accept your items.
The Council for Textile Recycling
The Council for Textile Recycling lets you search for charitable organizations near you. Find clothing donation drop-offs and textile recycling resources across the US. Keep in mind that the donation suggestions may not recycle “unwearable” textiles, so I recommend calling the location before making a drop-off.
Hopefully that information helps! The end of a garment’s life cycle is not something that many people (or companies) think about, but it’s an important part of the consumption process. I encourage you to buy clothing that you wear often and lasts a long time, but when those items eventually fall apart you can use these resources to help keep them out of the trash!