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Clothes Are Not Trash – Where To Recycle Your Old Clothes

One of my new favorite outfits, a refashioned top and secondhand jeans from ThredUp.

ThredUp recently came out with their 2020 Resale Report, which is a wealth of information about their company and the world of secondhand.

A few stats that were mind blowing right off the bat were as follows: in the next five years, the secondhand market is set to hit $64 billion in revenue, and by 2029 will be a bigger industry than fast fashion. These numbers are huge – and world changing.

There’s a lot about the fashion industry I don’t talk too much about here on the blog, but it’s something I am continuing to learn about every day.

I fight for sustainable fashion by refashioning and hand-making my wardrobe. I share this with the world in hopes to inspire others to do the same. I don’t have a refashion to share today, instead I wanted to take a moment to talk about one other piece of information that still makes me mad.

1 in 2 people are throwing their unwanted clothing directly in the trash. It has also been discussed in previous years that the average American throws away 80 lbs of textiles in a year. Now, let me start by saying, I am guilty of throwing away old underwear, socks, and old camisoles that lost their elasticity. While its been awhile since I’ve done this, I am not perfect in my sustainable journey but I’m on a mission to do better – and want to give you some resources to do the same!

(Please note: Each company may have different procedures and re-opening schedules for donations amid COVID. If you have questions or concerns, contact these companies directly)

Companies That Take Their Products Back

Companies that take their clothing back (and may give you something in return!)

  • Eileen Fisher: a brand that has already been making incredible leaps in sustainable fashion. They will take back your Eileen Fisher pieces and resell, mend or refashion. (And give you a $5 credit to their Renew Store). Check out the Renew Line and their Zero Waste art initiative Waste No More.
  • The North Face: works with a company The Renewal Workshop (more about that below) to upcycle their returned garments and gear. The North Face gives you a $10 credit and their renewed items come with a one year warranty. Check out The North Face Renewed.
  • Patagonia: is taking back gently used Patagonia apparel and giving you credit in return (see the trade in values here). They accept clothing through stores or via mail. Patagonia created Worn Wear for repairing and recycling the returned clothing and gear, which I highly recommend following if just for inspiration.
  • For Days: this company has a very interesting plan to keep the circulation of their clothing under their brand. For Days will swap out your old For Days shirts for new ones, you can read more about it here. For Days works with the recycling partner, Recover, who turns their returned shirts into new ones, making their company a closed loop system. They also offer “Take Back Bags” which you can purchase and fill with any old (clean!) clothes you want to be recycled.
  • Coyuchi: is leading the way in sustainable bedding and closing the loop on their products in the process. You can send your Coyuchi linens back to the company to be repurposed by The Renewal Workshop, and in return get 15% off your next order. You can shop these 2nd Home textiles at their Point Reyes Store. Read more here.
Baggu reusable bag made from recycled sails
  • Baggu: is recycling any nylon or canvas bags by recycling, repurposing, donating or selling to secondhand markets. Unfortunately, they don’t break down the percentage or qualifying factors for each distribution point, but it is an option to recycle some bags. Their site also says to email once sent back to the store and they will send you a discount for a new bag. More info here. In other news, they are currently selling reusable bags made from recycled sails!
  • Uniqlo: takes back their clothing and distributes it as follows: Clothing in good condition goes to refugees, disaster victims and others in need. Unwearable clothing gets recycled into refuse paper and plastic feul pellets for fuel. Read more here! According to their 2019 Sustainability Report, as of August 2019 they have donated 36.57 million items.
  • REI: is taking resale into their own hands by offering used outdoor clothing and gear online and creating a trade in program. REI has an extensive list of no-go’s, and there is currently a wait list for the program, but if your items are accepted, you can get an REI gift card for up to 20% of your items retail price. Hopefully with time this program will do even more, but it’s a great option for gear! Read more about it here.
  • Girlfriend Collective: is a brand I have purchased from and LOVE. They make leggings and other active wear out of recycled water bottles and have a program (ReGirlfriend) where you can send back your Girlfriend apparel to be properly recycled. You will have to pay for a shipping label ($7) but you do get $15 towards your next Girlfriend purchase.

Companies That Accept Clothes from Other Brands

  • Levi’s and Madewell: Both these companies work with the Blue Jeans Go Green denim recycling campaign from Cotton. They will take back any denim in any brand and give you 20% off one item in return (Levi’s) or $20 off a new pair (Madewell). The denim is used as insulation (read article here and here for Madewell), however there is currently no specific program to reclaim the denim into new items. Levi’s is encouraging garment longevity by creating Tailor Shops to repair and customize your jeans. Madewell also does repairs and customization (read more here), but are putting in more promotion towards jean resale by partnering with ThredUp and offering secondhand jeans in select stores. (I should note: I asked Levi’s if their recycling program would accept denim scraps and they currently do not)
  • H&M: has had recycle boxes in their stores since 2013 for easy textile recycling of any brand clothing and condition (but please don’t donate anything wet or moldy) and even accepts scraps. Years ago, I donated a bag of scraps because I didn’t know where else to turn. Now, this is not my favorite company because it is the epitome of fast fashion, but H&M has taken strides to answer consumer requests for transparency and more sustainable practices. In 2019, H&M collected over 29,000 tons of garments (that’s over 145 million t-shirts) and according to their sustainability performance report, it was an increase of 40% from 2018. On page 50 of their report I found the following stats for where the recycled textiles go:

— 50–60% are sorted for re-wear or reuse.
— 35–45% are recycled to become products for
other industries or made into new textile fibres.
— The remaining 3–7% that can’t be reused or
recycled are destroyed (prioritising incineration
for energy recovery where possible). Sending
textiles to landfill is not an option.

When a company says re-wear or re-use, this usually indicates selling in bulk to another country. While that can help the economy in other countries, part of the problem is drowning other countries in the textile waste we created. There are pros and cons, but my personal takeaway for this program is to choose another option. The further along the world gets in our goal for sustainability, the more options there are. If you choose to drop off at H&M you will receive a 15% discount card.

Marine Layer ReSpun Shirt
  • Marine Layer: this brand will take your old t-shirts, as many as you want to send them, and they will turn them into new ones. For helping them get inventory, you get a $5 credit per shirt, up to $25. Cotton Tees are ideal, but they will take anything as long as it isn’t activewear. Just request a kit to recycle your tees! (And totally not encouraging you to shop more but their Re-spun collection is pretty amazing) .
  • Knickey: Remember when I said I’m guilty of throwing away old underwear? Well, Knickey knows this is a common problem and they are solving it! Request a shipping label and send in your old intimates! (This includes bras, socks and tights, for men and kids items as well!) They will get recycled into insulation, rug pads and rags, and you’ll get a free pair of underwear in your next order with the company! Read more here!
  • Harper Wilde: is also a company focused on intimates, and when you buy a bra, it comes with a recycle kit to send in your old bras for proper recycling! Some materials become yarns and fabrics, and some materials are downcycled into filling stock or padding. More info here!
  • Fair Harbor: is the place to send your old swimsuits to be recycled! This is a fairly new program so I’m not finding too much information about the recycling process, but you can send in any swimsuit for recycling – just request a label!
  • Nike: has had a shoe recycling program in place since 1990 called Reuse-A-Shoe. Their stores will accept any brand of used athletic shoes to be recycled into Nike Grind – which becomes new Nike products, track and playground surfaces, basketball and tennis courts, and indoor synthetic and wood courts. This is just for athletic shoes (without cleats or spikes with metals).
  • Ten Thousand: has a campaign called, One In/One Out (in partnership with 2ReWear) to recycle used activewear from any brand. While you will need to make a purchase from this site to recycle old activewear, you will receive 10% off a future purchase! Nice Laundry, an underwear and sock company, does the same for socks and underwear.
  • Love Woolies: is a great place to send your old sweaters! This incredible company is taking unloved sweaters and turning them into hats, mittens and scarves, and has already saved over 10,000 sweaters! Send your sweaters here!

Recycle Textiles:

  • Terracycle: this is #1 place to recycle anything you can imagine, but it comes at a cost. Terracycle sells zero waste boxes that you can fill according to category (i.e. bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, etc) with items that some town recycling cannot dispose of. This is definitely a pricey option for recycling waste, but an option for those harder to recycle items.
Shoddy made from recycled textiles through Fab Scrap
  • FabScrap: for those of us working with textile and textile waste, FabScrap is the best source for recycling. You can recycle cuttings, headers, mock ups, samples, overstock bolts, production remnants and scraps. For those with a lot of waste, you can sign up for Fab Scrap’s pick up service. However, if you are a small hobbyist or just don’t have much to recycle, you can drop off your waste at both their retail shop and warehouse and it will be recycled for $1.50/lb. (Retail store will take up to 10 lbs, warehouse accepts more). I plan on using this service, and I am lucky enough to live within an hour to drop off my scraps (and shop at the same time!). The fabric is sorted by volunteers, some is re-sold, and unsellable material becomes shredded to create insulation, carpet padding, furniture lining, moving blankets, etc. (Currently, this recycling is in New York, Fab Scrap hopes to expand soon.)

Resale Platforms:

I’ve talked previously about platforms where you can sell your own clothes, like Poshmark or Depop, but when you just want it gone, turn to people who will sell it for you.

ThredUP: this is my favorite second hand resource. But I also want to share more of what your clothes can do. When you choose to send clothing into ThredUP, you can choose to get cash or credit for your items that sell, or you can choose to donate whatever your clothes make to charities like Feeding America, Girls Inc, Wardrobe for Opportunity or Help a Mother Out.

ThredUP is quickly becoming a go-to partner for brands who want to work on their sustainability. They are working with brands like Reformation and Madewell to resell the brands products. And they created a program for companies that want to get a piece of selling secondhand in their stores like Macy’s, and Walmart. ( Resale as a Service ) Select Macy’s have small sections in their store filled with curated secondhand pieces that have been sent to ThredUp.

Other Resources:

  • As mentioned above with Patagonia, Eileen Fisher and REI, companies want to take back their brands and resell on their own terms. These companies and others are using Trove to power the resale aspect of their businesses. It is an interesting company and just for educational purposes, I encourage you to check them out. As fashion companies continue to look for more sustainability (and more profit) options, I think we will start seeing more companies integrate resale on their own platforms.
  • The Renewal Workshop is one of the companies leading the way to help brands become more sustainable. They take discarded clothing and turn it into new products, recycled materials or recycling feedstock. As mentioned above, they work with The North Face and Coyuchi and here’s a list of the other brands they work with. They also have an online shop selling re-newed items.
  • While brands want to become more sustainable, they are turning to partners that have already been creating the technology to get there. Several companies are working with big and small retailers such as: Evrnu, Worn Again, and Renewcell.
  • Do you have LEGO’s that need a new home? With Give Back Box you donate used LEGO’s!

Recycling old textiles can feel overwhelming when they are in bags taking over your home. Whatever the item may be, there is probably a resource to properly recycle it and I hope this list helped if you were looking for a solution.

There are many project ideas for old textiles, and so many places that will gladly take your donations. I encourage you to do you own research when the time comes to de-clutter or discard. Check with your local charities to donate gently used clothing, and ask your local animal shelter if they can use old bedding and towels.

I plan to set up a small basket/box in our basement with clothing that is past its prime so I can easily fight the urge to “just toss it”, even if it’s one lonely sock who lost its mate. It is great to see companies taking responsibility and helping to keep clothing in circulation or properly recycle, but real change also starts at home with millions of families doing their part as well.

If there’s a company you believe should be added to this list, let me know!

4 thoughts on “Clothes Are Not Trash – Where To Recycle Your Old Clothes

  1. Trish, this is an awesome resource!! Thank you for doing all the legwork to make it easier for the rest of us to do better at reducing our negative environmental impact!!!

    Like

  2. I used to try to reuse my old clothes, not just throw them away.
    I found some videos about how to reuse, and the result is I gave up, it is so diffult and time-cost to do this work.
    Miranda: happyprom.co.uk

    Like

    1. Re-purposing clothing can definitely be difficult and time consuming, which is one of the reasons I created this list! For those that don’t want to refashion or re-purpose, it’s great to have a place to recycle old textiles!

      Like

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