Every year more than 15 million tons of cloth, fabric, and textiles are wasted, which is a big burden on the Earth’s resources as well as the grounds on which they are dumped. That said, most of us have plenty of clothes in the closest, some that we use to their full extent and others that we don’t. Inevitably some of these clothes will end up being discarded, but the way in which they’re discarded can have an impact. Donating clothes that are still in good condition and free of stains and tears is always a good idea, but there are more choices than the thrift store and the city dump. Here are five more ways to act sustainably by recycling, reusing, and reinventing your clothing.
Before donating, tossing, or repurposing your clothing, if it’s an item you love, consider simply repairing it. Repairing your clothing is easier than you think. If you can sew, great. Simply pick up matching thread and mend. If you don’t yet know how, ask a friend for help or look for community classes that can teach you.
Of all the things to do with old clothing, I enjoy repurposing most. Why? It’s creative, thrifty, and completely unique. Turn unused scarves into short skirts or halter tops. Cut up stained t-shirts and use as absorbent cleaning cloths. Cut frumpy sweaters into cozy cardigans. Old race shirts or fundraiser tees can be turned into quilts for the bed, while memorable printed tees can be cut and framed in picture frames.
Closet clean outs usually happen when I’m eager for a change. Just because I’m tired of that old pair of jeans, or that boring denim jacket I’ve worn with everything for the past few years doesn’t mean I need to toss them in the trash. Old clothes can often be reinvented with some subtle, and easy, changes. Do you know how to embroider? Design a fun pattern on the back of your jacket for a twist. A fun project can include making a few tears on the knee of old jeans, or adding a fabric pattern down the sides à la the current fashion. Add an iron-on pattern to a plain t-shirt or stamp prints on shorts. A quick search on Pinterest can provide plenty of exciting ideas that be done with a friend or by yourself, regardless of your ability level.
Maybe your clothes are too ratty, torn, or unshapely to wear as part of your everyday attire, but I often find myself turning these clothes into sleepwear or, better still, workwear. Do you have a garden? Avoid worrying about stains by reusing worn-out tees and pants for mowing the lawn, getting down in the dirt, or even washing your dog.
If you can’t reuse or repurpose your old clothing, and the clothing is simply too damaged to wear, consider recycling at a Textile Recycling Center. The leading nonprofit in textile recycling, The Council for Textile Recycling, has a goal to stop all textile from being dumped by the year 2037. To find the nearest recycling center, simply type your zip code into the form here and drop off.
All of these ideas happen after clothing has been bought, but what about before we spend our dollars? When possible, go for quality rather than quantity. Expensive clothes are often more expensive because of how they’re made, which is usually to last. If high price points turn you off, an hour or two spent at a few thrift shops can result in a few superb pieces for about a tenth of the original cost.
How do you avoid throwing away clothes? What tips do you have for repurposing or reinventing outdated pieces? Share with us below!