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How to Stop Clothing Waste in its Tracks

So what do you do with your old clothes? Let’s start with what happens to old clothes.

Every year, a staggering amount of clothing ends up in landfills instead of being recycled or reused. Approximately 85% of textiles in the United States go to landfills! Yet almost 95% of clothing and footwear can be recycled! Yes! Only a small portion needs to be discarded because of contamination. This means that a significant portion of usable clothing is thrown in the trash! Every year, the average American discards a staggering 81 pounds (36.74 kg) of clothing. Incredibly, sneakers, which are often considered durable footwear, are thrown away after a mere 125 to 200 days of use, adding to the alarming rate of product disposal. These statistics highlight the urgency to address our consumption patterns and find sustainable solutions to extend the lifespan of clothing and footwear.

Why it Matters?

Clothing waste has become a pressing environmental issue in our fast-paced consumer culture. The constant churn of fashion trends and the rise of fast fashion have led to a staggering amount of discarded clothing. Unfortunately, clothing is challenging to recycle, especially fabrics like cotton, which can take a toll on the environment. In the United States alone, millions of tons of clothing end up in landfills each year. It is crucial that we take action to reduce clothing waste and embrace sustainable fashion practices. In this article, we will explore practical ways to donate, embrace slow fashion, mend clothing, recycle garments, and repurpose used clothing creatively.

In the US, about 13 million tons of clothing waste goes to the landfills every year. The slow decomposition of clothing materials in landfills exacerbates the problem, with natural fibers like cotton taking up valuable landfill space for years before breaking down. Landfills are anaerobic and are not conducive to composting or biodegradability. This means that millions of tons of clothing are discarded each year, left to languish in landfills for decades, and possibly hundreds of years.

Lastly, clothing waste is a major greenhouse gas contributor. The fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of global carbon emissions, more than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Clothing (especially cotton) requires a large amount of water and and energy to produce. It takes approximately 2,700 liters of water to produce one cotton t-shirt, equivalent to what an average person drinks over three years. So it is crucial that we take action to reduce clothing waste and embrace sustainable fashion practices.

Is There a Market for Old Clothes?

Yes! There is a market for old clothing through 1)  recycling programs, 2) secondhand markets, and 3) sustainable fashion choices. This not only reduces the environmental impact of clothing waste but also creates opportunities for a more sustainable and circular fashion industry. (Source)

  • About 45% could be resold at thrift stores giving them a new lease on life, allowing others to enjoy pre-loved fashion.
  • About 30% can be recycled into cleaning cloths, providing a practical and sustainable solution for household use.
  • About 20% can be recycled and transformed into paper products, showcasing its versatility beyond traditional apparel.
  • Lastly, the remaining portion of old clothes can be recycled into industrial fibers, finding new applications in various industries.

Where can you donate old clothes?

If you have gently used clothing with no rips or tears, then consider donating your clothes. If you haven’t heard of Buy Nothing groups I highly recommend them! It’s a hyper local Facebook group in which your neighbors will come to your house to take stuff you don’t want! Buy Nothing groups are hyper local community groups that focus on the gift economy in which you can give, receive, share, or lend to others without the exchange of money. They recently developed an app too! However, if you have a large bag of clothing to donate then consider a local clothing box. If the box is overflowing call the phone number on the box and they will pick up.

Side note: I try not to donate to Goodwill Industries due to their controversies and wastefulness. However, if you cannot find a locally owned thrift store, donate bin, or one of the brick and mortar stores listed below, then Goodwill may be your only option. If so, be sure to review exactly what products Goodwill accepts.

Listed below are the largest clothing bin thrifters or donation locations:

Where can you sell old clothes?

In person.

Where Can you Recycle Old Clothes?

Some clothes cannot be saved. Some clothes are ripped or worn and should not be given to a thrift store or resold. So where do you take clothing that needs to be trashed or clothing like old underwear and bras that may not be reusable? You can find clothing recyclers below.

Where Can You Recycle Shoes?

  • Soles 4 Souls will take any gently used or new shoes for donation through their partner Zappos. Check their website to see dropoff locations. Soles for Souls also uses DSW stores for drop off, so if you have a DSW store nearby give them a call and see if they take shoes on behalf of Soles for Souls. Zappos also recycles Native Shoes through their website.
  • Native Shoes Remix recycles their shoes and turns them into playgrounds. Create a free account with Zappos, print your label, grab a used shipping box, tape and ship it!
  • Got Sneakers will take gently used sneakers and you can earn money for every pair of sneakers that you send them.
  • Nike has a program to recycle gym/running shoes. Many Nike stores participate in Reuse a Shoe program, but check with your local store before you arrive. Only a few Nike stores accept other forms of athletic gear. If you happen to live in Georgia or Texas, you can drop off used athletic gear at certain Nike stores. Nike accepts all athletic shoe brands, but they do not accept sandals, boots, or dress shoes. Just athletic sneakers!
  • If you’re in the United Kingdom you can take your shoes to a local recycling center.

What Can We Do Better?

  • Mending. Let’s bring back mending! Mending is the act of repairing your clothes, fixing a zipper, sewing a button, or hemming your pants. You can try your hand at mending your clothes yourselves or go to the seamstress or tailor. Here’s a great article on why mending is important.
  • Contact your local leaders and ask about local recycling programs. If there’s not a local clothing recycling program, learn about starting one. Did you know that Iowa City, IA has a food waste recycling program because local students (University of Iowa) simply asked? University of Iowa students asked the Iowa City council to create a food waste pilot program, which led to citywide food waste program. Sometimes all you have to do is ask.
  • Encourage policymakers to support government subsidies or publicly funded clothing collection programs. This could encourage private sector innovation and incentivize the collection and recycling of used clothing. Clothing (particularly cotton) is difficult to recycle. Cotton fibers are relatively short and tend to break during the recycling process. This results in reduced quality and strength of the recycled cotton fibers, making them less suitable for producing new textile products. So companies have less incentive to recycle cotton. You can find your federal, state, and local lawmakers here.
  • Avoid the big fast fashion giants if you are able. Fast fashion culture! Planned obsolescence is a thing–even for clothes! Fast fashion brands produce inexpensive, trendy clothing at a rapid pace, encouraging consumers to frequently purchase new items. The focus on disposable fashion leads to a cycle of buying, wearing a few times, and discarding, resulting in a large volume of clothing waste. Fast fashion giants like H&M, Urban Outfitters, Victoria’s Secret, Shein, and the Gap, etc. make poorly made trendy clothing. These clothes quickly go out of style, rip, or tear and end up in landfills. Coach was caught destroying excess products so they can continue to sell more. It’s crazy. Yet as consumers, we choose where our money goes, so as the knight from ‘Indiana Jones‘ said, “you must choose, but choose wisely.”
  • Spread the Word! People are not donating their clothes! Only about 50% of Americans donate usable clothing to thrift stores. The remaining 50% throw it in the trash! So we need to get the word out to that other 50%. Recycling clothing is not as well-known or accessible as recycling other materials like plastic or paper. Some people may not be aware of recycling programs, donation centers, or alternative uses for old clothing, leading to a higher likelihood of discarding them.
  • Contact big retailers! H&M is the second largest clothing company in the world and is one of the biggest contributors to clothing waste. They have a net profit of $22 billion ($20.27 euros). To their credit they created a clothing recycling program and they created a foundation called the Global Change Award to combat clothing waste. H&M also has a clothing recycling program. However, H&M has been caught greenwashing. Contact your favorite retailers and ask about their recycling programs. If they don’t have one, encourage them to create one. Start a petition of like minded individuals to pressure these companies to do better.

I hope these options have been helpful to reducing your clothing waste. Remember that reducing clothing waste is a crucial step towards creating a more sustainable fashion industry. By donating with purpose, embracing slow fashion, mending clothing, exploring recycling options, repurposing creatively, and making informed purchases, we can collectively make a positive impact. Let’s strive for a future where our clothing choices are mindful, ethical, and environmentally responsible. Together, we can reshape the fashion industry and contribute to a more sustainable and waste-conscious world.

If you have any ideas or suggestions, please share them with me in the comments or on Instagram




#zerowaste, #recycling, #clothing, #jeans

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One Comment

  1. Moreover, the article’s emphasis on the importance of responsible disposal and recycling of old clothing was eye-opening. Donating unwanted clothes to local charities or recycling them through specialized programs can divert tons of textile waste from landfills. Incorporating these strategies into my daily life and shopping habits feels empowering, knowing that I can contribute to a more sustainable future for our planet. I’m grateful for the insights shared in this article, and I’ll be sharing it with friends and family to encourage them to join the movement in stopping clothing waste in its tracks. Overall, this article has served as a valuable resource and a call to action for everyone to be more mindful of their clothing choices and consumption. By collectively adopting these practices, we can create a positive impact on the environment and pave the way for a more sustainable and conscious fashion industry. Kudos to the author for shedding light on this critical issue and motivating us to make a difference!

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