We live in a world defined by immediate gratification: fast connectivity, fast food and fast fashion. And yet, so much of what we consume is quickly forgotten, ends up in the rubbish bin or lost at the back of cupboard. Given that we also live in a world with a fragile environment, this ‘easy come easy go’ attitude is unsustainable. On an individual level, it can sometimes feel overwhelming: you want to live better and reduce your impact, but how? Fortunately, there are many more easy ways to go about it than ever before – and learning how to recycle clothes and reduce textile waste is just one.
Not every item in your cupboard fulfils the same purpose – or holds the same importance. Maybe you have a special event and need a new outfit just for that night. Or, perhaps culottes are back in fashion, and while you never thought you’d be seen dead in them, you get yourself a pair for summer. Then of course, there is that amazing suit or dress or shirt you just have to splurge on – but it’s such a well-made classic that you’ll own it forever.
A typical cupboard includes a mix of all these items. Most of the seasonal or fast fashion items are availably quite cheaply and are not made to last. Nonetheless, it pays to look after all your clothes – regardless of how much you paid for them. Before you even think about how to recycle clothes, think about how to make them last. Washing them at a lower temperature and cutting down on the hard ironing and tumble-drying at a high heat will make a huge difference to their durability.
If your old clothes have reached their sell-by date and are completely unwearable, even on duvet days, then you might feel itchy to throw them into the bin. Don’t! Textile waste is filling up our landfills and just adding to your environmental footprint. Instead, cut up your old clothing and use it as cleaning cloths. Believe you me, cotton and jersey fabrics make amazing dusters and wipers.
It may be the case that your unwanted clothes are in great shape but you’ve just fallen out of love with them. In that case, you can always resell them and recoup some pennies to spend on that great bag you have your eye on. If you’re wondering where to recycle clothes, there are many websites and apps that can help you reach a wide audience of interested buyers: eBay, Poshmark, Thredup (the UK’s largest thrift store!) and Mercari are just some worth checking out. If you’re interested in selling your items, check out our article on how to sell stuff online for the latest tips and tricks to get your items selling for the price you’re looking for.
If online buying and selling is not your scene, then consider in-store alternatives like H&M’s old clothes drop-off bin; you can throw in all items in good shape. Or you can take your old clothes down to your local thrift store and negotiate a deal. The ReGAIN app even offers you a way of turning your old clothes into discount coupons.
You could also choose to donate the clothes to a charity shop, deposit point or to a shelter. They rely on clothing donations, making them the ideal place to drop off your clothes for someone else to enjoy. Most of the main charities like Oxfam and BHF are involved, and organisations like TRAID even offer free home collections. That way, you do a good deed for your community – and the planet.
As mentioned in our article on how to revamp your wardrobe, homemade updates and fixes to your existing items can be a great way to recycle and refresh the items that you already have. And you don’t have to be an expert tailor - you can buy lots of different glues for no-sew projects, and clothes can often be dyed in a washing machine.
The thing about clothing trends and styles is that for the most part, nothing is ever totally original. Fashion swings around and what’s cool one season is out the next and then back on the catwalks a few years later. It’s not uncommon for people to have thrown out, recycled or resold an item only for it to suddenly come back in fashion. In fact, look through your family photo albums and no doubt, you’ll come across plenty of photos of older relatives wearing cool clothes that sadly got tossed before you were born.
To avoid this, we say store your clothes that are still wearable and possible fashion comebacks. Well-made items like good coats, suits, dresses or jerseys are all worth hanging onto – even if they aren’t currently cool, or not fitting quite like they used to. If you’re thinking long-term about how to recycle clothes, this could be the one for you.
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