About once a year, I purge my closets of all my unwanted clothes, whether it’s the jeans that no longer fit, the T-shirts I’ve worn to shreds, or the weird-arse dress that seemed like a good idea at the time but ended up being an exercise in medieval torture. It’s tempting to save some of these items, out of a belief that it may be useful one day, but we all know the truth: That’s pretty unlikely, and in the meantime, it’s extra clutter I don’t need.
The main challenge in ridding yourself of old clothing is doing so in an environmentally sustainable way, as our clothing is responsible for a huge amount of pollution. Textile mills are responsible for approximately one-fifth of all industrial water pollution, using an estimated 20,000 chemicals, many of which are harmful to people. The textile industry also accounts for an estimated 10% of all global carbon emissions. When it’s time to throw these old clothes out, only about 16% of them get recycled, with the rest of them either going into landfills or getting incinerated.
So before you head straight for the trash, consider some of these ways to reuse or recycle old clothing.
For the clothes that are in good condition and relatively new, you can try selling them. Not only will this keep your old clothes out of the landfill, but this will also give another person an opportunity to buy used, rather than new, while also earning you a little cash on the side.
Some of the more popular online options for selling your old clothes include ThredUp, Depop, Poshmark and Vinted. If you want to stay local, you can also look for any consignment shops that buy old clothes.
Selling your old clothes is a good way to make sure they get additional use, while also earning a little money on the side — but if you’ve got a lot to purge, it can also be a lot of work. If you don’t have the time or energy for that, consider donating them instead.
For donating, there are a few general rules you should follow. First of all, they should be in good condition, with no tears, stains or holes. Wash them before donating — preferably with unscented detergent, and skip any fabric softeners. Keep in mind that someone, usually a volunteer, will have to sort. through these old clothes, so make sure whatever you donate is clean and in relatively good shape.
It’s also a good idea to call ahead and ask what the organisation you’re donating to needs, and to donate seasonal items, as they don’t always have a lot of storage space for out-of-season items.
For clothing that is too tattered or stained to sell or donate, consider re-purposing them. When I was a kid, we always had a rag bin at home, in which many of our old, tattered clothing was cut up into smaller pieces, and then used to clean up dirt, dust, pet accidents, and spills around the house.
Unfortunately, recycling old clothing isn’t as simple as putting tossing it into a recycling bin. However, it is possible to recycle textiles — it’s just a bit more complicated than recycling glass or newspaper. To find textile recycling centres near you, you can use Earth911’s Recycling Locator tool. There are also paid programs, such as TerraCycle, which offers a ZeroWaste Textile Box, where you fill it up with old clothing, send it in, and they will recycle it for you.