The world has an enormous textile waste problem and it’s only growing. It’s estimated that 92
tonnes of textile waste
are generated globally every year. And it’s expected that by 2030 that quantity will have reached 134 million tonnes per
Landfill may seem as though it’s not as damaging as other pollutants, it’s in the ground after all, but this is far from the reality.
Along with methane, landfills also produce carbon dioxide and trace amounts of nitrogen, hydrogen, and non methane organic compounds. These gases can also contribute to climate change and create smog if left uncontrolled.
On top of that, creating space for landfills means destroying natural habitats and wildlife, removing hundreds of acres of bush land with each landfill.
Multiply that by the number of dumps around the world and the figures become overwhelming. The US alone has over 2000 active landfills and in Australia, about 6000kg of textiles are dumped in landfill every 10 minutes.
All of this contributes to climate change. And what climate change is telling us is that if we don't act quickly, now, the damage will be permanent.
So what can we do to reduce this environmental crisis?
Keep reading to find out more about textile and clothes recycling, where to recycle your own clothes and the simple things you can do to support sustainable fashion.
First of all it's important to stop and consider the clothes you are currently buying and the potential environmental impact they might
Are they well made pieces with reasonable durability? Or are they cheap pieces that were bought for short term enjoyment and weren't designed to last?
You may need to consider reducing the amount of short-term trends and fast fashion you buy. These pieces are generally made to have a short lifetime, either wearing out quickly or becoming unwanted as trends lose their appeal, often ending up in landfill.
It's also important to consider what happens to all of your clothes, both well made and fast fashion, when you are finished with them.
No matter how well you look after your clothes the chances are most of them will, at some time, reach a point where holes begin to appear, the colour fades drastically, or they stretch and grow and are no longer wearable.
So where do they go now? Will they cause harm even at the end of their life?
The answer is yes, they can cause significant harm depending on how you get rid of them.
When you have wardrobe pieces that have reached the end of their days how do you keep them from becoming landfill?
Sustainable fashion depends on finding a way to manage not just the manufacturing of your clothes and how you look after them, but also
the recycling of them.
When you think about your clothing and the impact they have on people, the planet and wildlife you need to think beyond their lifespan hanging in your wardrobe.
After the years you may have recently experienced, enduring weeks and months at home in lockdown, you may have had the desire to purge your wardrobe and draws of useless or unwanted pieces.
When you do clean out your closet and find pieces you’re no longer interested in, but that are still in good condition, you can of course try selling on sites such as eBay, Vestiaire Collective, or Depop.
But even if you haven’t gone so far as a full cleansing, I’m sure you can remember having pieces you’ve run out of purpose for or that have become unwearable and that have ended up in the bin.
I remember some very old, ruined pieces of my own that have gone that way.
Unfortunately, people often send clothes to charities that are no longer in good enough condition to sell or donate and they also end up in the rubbish.
According to charities in Australia, approximately 30% of donated clothes are thrown out because of this.
But textile waste should not end up in your rubbish as synthetic fabrics may never break down, while even natural fibres will take a long time.
If your pieces are no longer of good enough quality to sell or donate, perhaps it’s time to recycle your worn out clothes.
Where do you recycle your clothes? Glad you asked.
There are now a bunch of organisations around the world committed to sustainable fashion with the sole purpose of recycling your
clothes to stop them ending up in landfill.
Some of these organisations work independently while others work alongside brands like Zara and H&M, offering garment collection or clothes recycling bins in these stores.
This is the easiest option for most people as brands like these appear regularly around the world.
And as a reward for recycling with these brands some of them offer customers a voucher or discount when they bring in clothes for recycling.
But to give you some extra ideas, I’ve found 11 places around the world accepting old clothes and textiles for recycling.
Many of these sites will give you the option to search for a store or facility near you.
These brands have stores all over the world with numerous appearing in most countries, so they might be the easiest option for many people. If you visit their websites, you can search for a store nearest to you where you can take not just your clothes for recycling but other textiles as well.
They're now offering textile recycling bins in stores around the world where you can take clothes from any brand to be recycled.
Like Zara, H&M are also providing clothes recycling bins for any brand in all of their stores, globally.
With multiple stores available in a large number of countries Uniqlo is another useful option. However they don’t currently take as many products as others offering a similar service.
Although not available globally, & Other Stories have stores in the US, UK and throughout Europe. They allow you to take old textiles from any brand, including things like towels and socks, to any store. Here they will be collected by their recycling partner and given a new life as things such as insulation material for the construction industry, carpet underlay, shoe insoles, and many other things.
This group offer a collection service which you can organise through their website. You choose the number of boxes you need for the clothes and textiles you want to recycle, they deliver them to you, and once filled you organise for the boxes to be returned. This service isn't free, but means you don't have to go anywhere to get the job done.
Like Upparel, After offer a collection service however instead of continuous pick ups they schedule their collection rounds. If you sign up for their emails you'll receive one letting you know when their next round will be.
Although based in Australia Upparel also offer their services elsewhere, including to our Kiwi friends.
This not-for-profit organisation provides a search tool that allows you to find a facility close to you where you can donate or recycle clothing, footwear, household textiles and more.
As a brand committed to creating clothes using ethical and sustainable practices, The North Face is also focused on reducing the impact of clothing when they're no longer wearable. They currently have 18 stores throughout Canada where you can take apparel and footwear to keep it out of landfill.
Recycle Now is a brand managed by WRAP, a charity focused on helping business and citizens create a world where resources are sourced and used sustainably, through product design, waste minimisation, re-use, recycling and reprocessing of waste materials. You can use their search tool to find recycling facility closest to you.
Having set up a clothes recycling program called Shwop, you can now take clothes from any brand to most M&S stores, including M&S outlets, to be resold, reused or recycled, so absolutely nothing goes to waste.
As well as the global options mentioned above with stores such as Zara, & Other Stories, H&M and Uniqlo, The North Face
also provides a textile recycling option for people living in Germany.
If you’ve been unsure about how clothes recycling works, or perhaps if you haven’t realised the significance of the problem clothes and other textiles create when they head to landfill, I hope what you’ve read here has helped paint a clearer picture.
I also hope you now feel you have a valuable resource available to you when it comes to finding where to recycle your old clothes and textiles.
We know that climate change is here, that there is no time for waiting when it comes to making significant changes to protect people and the planet, and recycling our old worn out clothes so they don’t end up in landfill is definitely a important.
It’s also something that we can do personally. It doesn’t require waiting for politicians to make better decisions or brands to improve their practices.
This is something that we can take on ourselves, as our personal contribution to protecting our planet and all that depends on it and supporting a more sustainable fashion industry.
Knowing your old clothes, shoes and household textiles will be recycled and given a new life, is a sweet relief.
It offers an honest opportunity to contribute to the sustainability that's essential if we are to save our planet from ongoing, permanent and severe environmental damage and everything that comes with that.