How To Sustainably Get Rid of Old Clothes

You may have seen the bad news circulating around that, statistically, only around 10-20% of your clothing that you donate to thrift stores actually gets resold. So, what are some better, low-waste ways to dispose of old clothing?

Side note: I talked about the way in which I cleaned out my closet and my go-to methods of clearing out clothes in a past blog post. That is more high-level if you’re looking for closet clear-out tips, this blog will go more into detail on the specific programs and options for getting rid of the clothes you decide to get rid of.

Another side note, because I can never get straight to the point: NONE of these recycling programs are substitutes for reducing your consumption of clothing. Be a conscious consumer. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. If you’ll wear it 30+ times and love it for its lifespan, go ahead.

Okay, down to business. Here are some resources for zero waste clothes recycling:

Donating Your Clothes Sustainably

If you’re getting rid of your clothes because you don’t want to wear them anymore, think long and hard about whether or not they’re appropriate to donate. Just because someone is in a position to need donated clothing, it doesn’t mean that they should have their dignity reduced to clothes with holes or stains. If your clothes aren’t in good condition anymore, you shouldn’t donate them anywhere, and you should be reading one of the other sections.

That said, if your clothes are a great fit for someone else, just not you, these are some options!

  • If you are donating clothes of a certain size or gender, research if there is a shelter for that community in your area. Shelters for unhoused people are often in need of quality clothing for their community. You can find your local shelters here.
  • Does your community have a local Buy Nothing group? If so, post your clothes for swap! Maybe you’ll get something great in return, and your clothes will continue to be loved for quite some time. When the person is done with the clothes, you can refer them back to this blog!
  • Many states offer “Foster Care Closets” where parents of foster children can offset some of the cost of new clothes by getting donated clothing secondhand. Find where to donate your clothes to foster care closets here.

Sustainably Re-Selling Your Clothes

Since I have student loans and I’m not a millionaire (brands, feel free to reach out and change that), I like to try and re-sell my clothing if it’s from a good brand and in good condition. If it doesn’t sell, I’ll donate it to one of the above organizations! Some of the best apps for re-sale include

  • Poshmark is great if you have the time. I haven’t used Depop or Mercari, but my understanding is they work the same way. You get to negotiate prices, and it’s probably where you’ll get the most for your money, because you’re certainly not paying for convenience. Plus, if an item doesn’t sell, it’s still in your hands to divert from landfill.
  • My second favorite re-sale option is ThredUp, they give you the option to recycle the clothes that don’t sell, but it isn’t very transparent what that means.

Eco-Friendly Underwear Recycling

If you’re like me, and full of eco-guilt, you’ve probably held on to scrappy bras, underwear, or single socks, in the hope you’d magically find somewhere ethical to donate your used underwear. Well, call me Genie, because I’m here to make your wish come true:

  • New and gently-used bras can be donated to either your local women’s shelter, or to a national organization like Support the Girls, who donate them to women and girls (and other people with boobs) who are experiencing homelessness.
  • Knickey is an organic cotton underwear brand that also has a recycling program! You can send in your (clean) underwear of any condition through their recycling bag, and when you do so Knickey includes a free pair of underwear in your next order from them! They turn the shredded underwear into insulation, rug pads, and rags.
  • Used underwear that you want to recycle can be recycled through a program like Hanky Panky’s LingerieCycle. Hanky Panky shreds the material, and turns it into carpet padding.

Jeans Recycling Program

If you’re like me and bought a ton of shitty jeans that ripped because they weren’t made you last, you need to know how to recycle your jeans.

Madewell partners with the Blue Jeans Go Green organization, who turns your old jeans into housing insulation as long as they’re 90% cotton or higher! Bonus points, when you recycle your jeans at Madewell, you get $20 off a pair of their jeans. If you don’t have a Madewell store near you, check out their other ways to send them your jeans.

Recycle Old Shoes

I tend to wear my shoes to within an inch of their life, and I’ve never been a shoe junkie, so I’m not a pro in this department. However, there are two great programs that I’ve come across to ethically and sustainably recycle your worn shoes.

  • Soles 4 Souls sends your shoes to entrepreneurs in developing countries, allowing them to resell them and break free from the poverty cycle. There are mixed opinions on organizations like these, but I like how transparent this one is. You can find one of their drop off locations or ship to them through Zappos.
  • Nike takes used athletic shoes (find a drop off site here) and turns them into athletic surfaces, made of their “Nike Grind” material. For a company with not-so-great past ethics, Nike is really upping their sustainability game!

Recycle Ripped Clothing and Fabric Scraps

Sometimes, clothes are just beyond their best days, and you need to send them off into the sunset. Here are a few options for those stained and tattered clothes:

  • Check in your area! There may be a local group that takes fabric scraps and turns them into something amazing.
  • Fabric that is 100% cotton is compostable! Something to keep in mind when you’re next buying new clothes. Just make sure you drop it off at an appropriate compost site that will actually take it.
  • For Days will send you a Take Back Bag for $10, the cost of which is applied as a credit to your first order from them. All the fabric scraps are turned into new clothes; they’re the first closed-loop clothing company! I’ll be sure to post on Instagram when I buy something from them.

With any of these clothes disposal options, you can’t guarantee that the pieces of clothing won’t eventually end up in landfill, but taking the time to try to recycle your clothes and take more fabric out of landfill is something to celebrate! Way to do your best!

For a graphic representation of these images and other day-to-day resources, follow me on Instagram and Pinterest @LowWasteLottie

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