How to Recycle Clothes
In the UK we spend nearly £60 billion on new clothes every year, meaning many old clothing items make way for them in our wardrobes. Sadly, lots of this ends up in landfill. Clothes can take hundreds of years to decompose while releasing toxic chemicals into the environment and adding to greenhouse gas emissions.
The good news is that you can recycle clothes – whatever their age, type, and condition. From a stylish suit you no longer fit into, to a worn-out pair of shoes or dress that doesn’t meet your tastes, you can recycle clothes in a few different ways to save space, energy, and the planet.
Find out how to recycle clothes in this guide, whether you’re clearing out your wardrobe at home or your business is getting rid of old uniforms, workwear, or clothing stock.
Reusing old clothes is always the best option as it saves on the energy, materials, and costs required to create new textiles. It also saves on the energy needed for the textile recycling process. The main benefits of recycling clothing are that it:
- Saves landfill space for rubbish that can’t be reused or recycled.
- Reduces pollution levels as clothing in landfill can take hundreds of years to decompose, releasing the greenhouse gas methane into the environment.
- Conserves energy by reducing the need for it to create more new clothes from scratch.
- Helps those in need when you donate clothing to charities – either from the money charities receive when selling them or by directly giving clothes to those in need.
- Benefits your home or business by freeing up space and making you a bit of money if you sell or rent any unwanted clothes.
How to recycle
There are many ways to breathe new life into old clothes rather than sending them to landfill. Pass them on to someone else, donate to charity, rent or sell them, or simply do them up and create a new item of clothing.
If your old clothes are still in a wearable condition, some ideas for recycling old clothing include to:
- Donate to charity shops – businesses and households can donate any old clothes in a good, clean, and wearable condition to most charity shops. Bag them up and drop them off at your local one or see if they offer collection. They may not accept company-branded clothing or school uniforms (though check your local school uniform shop – as some sell second-hand uniforms).
- Sell your old clothes – make a bit of money and avoid adding to landfill by selling old clothes at a car boot sale or a pop-up market. There are loads of places to sell clothes online too, such as eBay, Depop, and Hardly Ever Worn It – just remember to factor in shipping costs.
- Pass on to others – handing down old children’s clothes has been a long-standing tradition that saves money and the environment. Consider passing on adult clothes too, such as maternity clothing or others you’ve grown out of, if they fit a friend that fancies them.
- Upcycle and transform – bored of an outfit? Rather than getting rid of it, think of ways to transform or upcycle it. Maybe cutting off the sleeves, adding rips to jeans, or some embroidery to freshen it up.
- Rent your clothes – as consumers become more eco-conscious, clothing rental platforms like MyWardrobeHQ and ByRotation are becoming more fashionable. They’re best for renting out shirts, suits, dresses, and other smart clothing, and you can make some money in the process.
How to recycle
Many charity shops can’t sell ripped, worn out, or damaged clothes so they may not accept your donations. It’s also unlikely anyone will want to buy, rent, or accept a hand-me-down if it’s in a poor condition. However, there are ways of recycling damaged clothing rather than throwing it away.
Recycling worn out clothing avoids it going to landfill and helps breathe a new lease of life into the materials. There are a few ways to recycle old clothes that can’t be donated:
- Upcycle damaged clothing – holes in clothing are easily repairable or you could cover them with a patch. For more seriously damaged clothing consider cutting out any usable bits of fabric and turning it into face masks, cleaning cloths, blankets, or padding for cushions.
- Donate to an animal shelter – many animal shelters, farms, and zoos accept damaged, ripped, and worn-out clothes – as most animals aren’t too fashion-conscious. They can use them for cleaning, as bedding, and sometimes as coats for those that need a little extra insulation in winter.
- Send for textile recycling – damaged clothing that’s of no other use should be sent for textile recycling. You can often drop clothes off in a textile recycling bin at your local household recycling centre or arrange delivery and collection of textile waste bins for your business. The old clothes will be taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where they’re sorted and processed based on the textile type and turned into new fabrics.
Recycling shoes may sound trickier than other clothes as they’re often made from different materials. However, if your shoes are in a decent condition then donating them to a charity shop should still be your first choice. Some charities send them to those in need in other countries.
You can also recycle damaged shoes in similar ways to clothes. Put them in a shoe bank or shoe recycling bin (found in many household recycling centres and supermarkets). In some cases, you can use textile recycling bins for old shoes too – they’ll go to an MRF where the leather, foam, plastic, rubber, and fabric materials are separated and recycled individually.
Some footwear shops and brands run their own take-back schemes that accept shoes from any make and condition. These are then put to good use, donated, or recycled. Upcycling is another option if they’re not too badly damaged. Give them a thorough clean, thread in a new pair of laces, or dye canvas trainers a fresh colour for a new look.
How to recycle
Recycling old work uniforms – even those in great condition – requires a different approach to other clothes. Your business may need to get rid of old uniforms if you have new workwear ordered, they’re worn out, or there’s a printing error on them. However, some charity shops don’t accept old clothes with company logos/branding.
There are charities that take old work uniforms and donate to people in need abroad though. And some services can remove company emblems, logos, and text so that the clothes themselves can be donated and reused. Otherwise, businesses can arrange collection of old uniforms for textile recycling.
For employees, you should first return any old work uniform to your employer or ask them what to do with it. Many will wash and reuse it by giving it to another employee, or they’ll store it and recycle a large batch of old uniforms at once. If you can keep it, wear it for gardening, decorating, or other dirty jobs rather than throwing away.
What happens to clothes
at recycling centres?
When you send clothes for recycling that can’t be worn or reused, they’ll go to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). Here the clothes are sorted, and any fabrics separated from other types of waste. They’re then further sorted and processed based on whether they’re made of natural textiles, polyester textiles, or other artificial textiles.
- Natural textiles are shredded into their fibres, cleaned, and spun into yarn. This is then sent to a factory or manufacturer to create new fabrics and clothing items.
- Polyester textiles are shredded into polyester chips, melted down, and then used to form new polyester fabrics used by manufacturers – also to create new clothing and textiles.
- Other artificial textiles may be cleaned and separated, then used as padding or insulation for cars. They’re not used to create new fabrics in the same way as natural and polyester textiles.
Clothing recycling facts
Many of us know how to recycle clothes in the UK and there’s plenty of evidence suggesting lots of households and businesses already do. However, there’s still work to be done to increase recycling rates and reduce the amount of clothing heading to landfill, as these clothing recycling facts show:
- In the UK we send 700,000 tonnes of clothingto recycling centres, textile banks, clothes collections, and charities every year.
- Of this amount more than 100,000 tonnes of clothing are resold or donated to charity shops.
- However, more than 30% of unwanted clothes still go to landfill in the UK.
- That’s around 336,000 tonnes of unwanted clothing thrown away every year.
- Recycling or reusing all those clothes could generate £140 million.
- And an estimated £30 billion worth of unused clothing sits in Britain’s wardrobes.
- According to Clothes Aid, 57% of people recycle their textiles – but 41% are unaware of textile recycling facilities.
- 35% of shoes are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) – which can take up to 1,000 years to decompose.
- Around the world 92 million tonnes of textile waste is created annually.
- The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions produced – releasing an estimated 2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases.
How to recycle clothes
with Business Waste
Arrange free delivery of textile recycling bins to your business. We can provide containers of various sizes to safely store the amount of old clothing you want to recycle. Then schedule collection at a time and day that suits. If you produce lots of textile waste, we can offer collections on a daily, weekly, or fortnightly basis.
Our licenced waste carriers will collect your clothing waste at the agreed time and transport to a nearby Materials Recycling Facility for sorting and recycling. Whatever type of old clothes and their condition, we can help you recycle it and provide a free quote with no obligation.
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