How You Can Recycle Clothes

Steve Russell - May 23, 2022

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Like many people, you probably have that pile of clothes sitting in your closet or the back of your vehicle, waiting to go to the donation center or in the trash. People cycle through clothes all the time, whether it’s because they don’t fit anymore or have holes or stains on them. Unfortunately, fast fashion isn’t making the pile of clothes any smaller, but that’s a conversation for another time. 

Each year, just over 11 million tons of textiles end up in landfills. Discarded clothing accounts for the majority of textile waste. Adding to the dumps in the United States and other parts of the world harms the environment. It could take years for textiles to decompose. 

Fortunately, there are ways you can discard your clothing in more sustainable manners. The vast majority of clothes are only worn a few times. Think smarter and more sustainably when getting rid of that clothing pile. 

Here’s how you can recycle clothes, or at least put them to good use instead of throwing them in the trash.

Donate Your Clothes

Whether you outgrow your clothes or maybe update your style, you can choose to donate your unwanted clothing items. It might seem easier to throw that bag of clothes in the trash, but someone could make great use out of them. If your clothes don’t have the resale potential, then you can look into donating them. They should still be in decent condition, without any holes or major stains. Give them to Goodwill, the Salvation Army or a shelter. 

Take Them to a Textile Recycling Center

You can’t put clothing into your regular recycling bin with aluminum cans and paper. However, you can find a textile recycling center near you. Textile recycling centers take clothes that don’t have a wearable life anymore but are still structurally sound. Often, recycled clothes are downcycled into things like rags, insulation and mattress stuffing. The fibers are broken down and become shorter, so centers can’t recycle them into a new clothing item.

Sell Gently Used Clothes

Another way to keep your clothes out of the landfill is to sell them. It happens all the time — you purchase a piece of clothing for one event, buy clothing online that ends up not fitting or buy a shirt you thought you’d wear, but it still sits in your closet with the tags on it. You can make some of that money back by selling your clothes at thrift stores or online. These items should be in good condition without stains or tears. 

Repurpose Old Clothes

The clothes that you no longer need could serve a new purpose in your home. For example, maybe a worn-out or favorite old shirt can be a pillow cover. Perhaps you can turn old sheets and flannels into a bed for your furry friend. Additionally, you could use old, damaged T-shirts as reusable towels and dusting cloths. The options are endless with fabric material. In these times of COVID-19, you could repurpose your old clothes into face masks for your family. 

Compost Clothes with Natural Fibers

Did you know that you might be able to throw that pair of socks in with your compost? While not all fabrics are compostable, some of them are, meaning more added nutrients to your organic material. In your pile of clothes you want to get rid of, look for natural fiber items made from pure silk, cotton, linen or wool. Cut them up into tiny pieces and throw them right into your compost bin or pile. Make sure to remove buttons, zippers and any other non-compostable material first.

Participate in Brand Take-Back Programs

Depending on the brand of clothing, the brand might take back your unwanted clothing items. Essentially, after you’re done wearing the product, the brand is happy to take back those clothes to close the loop on production and extend the life of raw materials. Some stores will offer an incentive, like a coupon, cash or clothing exchange. A few of those brands are Madewell, Levi’s, Reformation and Patagonia. 

Know When to Take It to the Landfill

When a piece of clothing is too far gone to recycle, donate, sell, compost or repurpose, it can probably go into the landfill. The ultimate goal is not to put any materials in landfills, but sometimes, it’s inevitable. If clothing is wet, has mold or is torn to shreds and has any hazardous material on it, then put it in the trash. 

Sustainable Fashion Is the Most Fashionable Choice

When choosing clothing, try to make sure it’s sustainable. Will you wear it multiple times? Is it made from natural materials? Or maybe the clothing brand ethical? Is it a piece that can stay in your closet for years to come? When you find a piece of clothing that is no longer of use to you, give it a new life before sending it to the landfill.

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About the author

Steve Russell

Steve is the Managing Editor of and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.