Where to recycle worn, stained and damaged clothes in Australia
by Katherine Hynes
There are two piles of old clothes on my bed. One is off to charity because everything is still good enough to wear. The other consists of damaged items - various stained or worn tops, stretched yoga pants, and that once nice navy button-up recently destroyed by my rip-and-run Labrador.
So what do you do with clothing and textiles that are no longer good enough to use?
Well if you send them to landfill, they’ll create the greenhouse gas methane which is 25 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Currently Australians are throwing out 6000 kg of clothing every 10 minutes, making us one of the world’s biggest polluters.
But dropping your old damaged clothes in a charity donation bin along with the ‘good stuff’ is still not the answer. Australian charities report that they, too, send up to 30% of donated clothing and textiles to landfill each year, costing them millions of dollars that would otherwise go to social welfare programs. They say if your old clothing is not good enough to give to a friend, don’t donate it.
So what should you do? Fortunately in Australia there are several clothing and textiles recycling options.
TEXTILE RECYCLING BUSINESSES
There are some businesses and organisations that export old clothing that can't be sold in Australia to developing nations to be worn, mended, or recycled into rags or used to make bio fuel. For your old clothes to reach these companies, check if your local charity shop has a 'rags bin' (I've had better luck with the smaller independent shops), or check out the retailers listed below.
FASHION AND TEXTILE RETAILERS
Both H&M and Zara fashion retail giants offer a collection recycling service of unwanted clothes, any brand and in any condition, at all their Australian stores. Clothing in good condition is reused and sold by charities. Clothing and textiles in poor condition are either recycled into cleaning rags or sent to a fabric fibre recycler to create new fabrics and products such as insulation for cars and the construction industry. Special donation collection bins can be found in their stores. Likewise, bedding label Sheridan accepts any brand of preloved quilt covers, sheets and towels, and sock retailer Manrags accepts clean unwanted socks (including odd socks) for reuse and recycling.
Give them away on Facebook. Try your local Facebook community page, or Facebook groups such as ‘Pay It Forward’ or ‘Buy Nothing’. Once, I re-homed several old pillows to a woman who washes the stuffing and makes pouches for orphaned baby flying foxes! On these groups I often see requests for ‘upcycling’ or ‘creative reuse’ projects – people asking for 100% cotton for beeswax wraps, old ripped jeans for cushion covers, and old t-shirts for ‘no-sew bags’ (check out the YouTube tutorials). I’m always amazed to discover how many creative and community-minded people there are out there, ready to take your old clothes, bedding and curtains to extend their life by turning them into something useful or beautiful. Post a photo and description on one of these groups, describing the fabric and its condition, and see if someone can use it.
Boomerang Bags is a grassroots community upcycling initiative that began in 2013 by two Queensland women concerned about the devastating effect single use plastic bags have on the environment. It’s now grown into 800 communities worldwide. Each group collects unwanted fabrics and sews them into cloth bags to replace single use plastic bags in their community. Groups rely on fabric donations. Google your local group and see if they can use your old clothing and textiles.
ANIMAL SHELTERS AND VETERINARY PRACTICES
Many animal shelters and vets around Australia appreciate the donation of used bedding, blankets and towels. Call ahead to see what your local vet or shelter needs. Another option is your nearest wildlife rescue organisation.
RAGS FOR MECHANICS
Donations of old towels, sheets and some clothing may be appreciated by your local mechanic for use as rags.
LOCAL REUSE INITIATIVES
Where I live in Sydney, I’m lucky to have access to a wonderful not-for-profit recycling and reuse initiative called Reverse Garbage. This organisation offers an eclectic selection of donated items from businesses and individuals, including rolls of fabrics, offcuts, and haberdashery. Maybe there’s a local reuse gem near you that you haven’t heard about. Ask around or check with your local council.
Good luck in finding an easy local recycling option for your old damaged clothes.
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Katherine Hynes is an Actor, Voiceover Artist and Zero Waste advocate. She is also the co-founder of The Ekologi Store - environmentally friendly products and eco gifts.
Photos: Natanya Shearer-Stanton, Matthew Henry (Burst) and William Malott (Unsplash)