How To Recycle Clothes & Shoes That Aren’t In Good Condition


It would make life a lot easier if clothes lasted forever, but unfortunately, that's not the case. After a lot of wear and tear and washing and drying, most clothing items start to get worn out, dirty, and just generally old-looking - not exactly something you want to keep wearing if you don't have to. When it's time to get rid of clothing, though, you really don't want to throw it in a garbage bag as waste. Old clothing can, and should, be recycled and re-used, even if it's not looking in its best. If the clothes are really beat up, you probably can't donate them - most thrift shops won't take them, and giving ripped up, filthy items to a charity isn't advisable — so what should you do with them? You can still recycle clothes and shoes that aren't in good condition, it just might take a little extra work, but it's worth it, we swear.

The Council for Textile Recycling says that the United States generates an average of 25 billion pounds of textiles a year in the form of clothing, shoes, accessories and more, which comes out to about 82 pounds per person. 85 percent of that will end up in municipal landfills, which can add up to about 21 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste. Do you really want to contribute to that? Hopefully not, but unfortunately, the amount of clothing we toss in the garbage is only increasing. In 2009, the Council estimated that we would generate more than 35 billion pounds of textile waste in 2019.

What makes these numbers even worse is that almost all clothes and shoes are recyclable, even though only about 15 percent of textiles produced every year are recycled. Don't contribute to the wrong side of this! Learning how to recycle your clothing and shoes, even if they're not in great condition, is an important contribution to our environment. Here are a few options on how to do so:

Look into textile recycling

Textile recycling might not be as easy as throwing the items into a bin, dragging it to the curb, and waiting for someone else to pick it up, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Search for clothing recycling bins in your area, many of which will take clothing in any condition, and drop off your items for free. Companies like the American Textile Recycling Services collect donations at drop-off locations, then sort through everything. There are also plenty of websites, like Recycle Now, that help you find bins in your area.

Donate them to places that take old clothing

There are also certain donation spots that will actually take your super old clothing and get them recycled for you. Some Goodwill locations will also recycle clothing too damaged to sell. In fact, the LaPorte County Solid Waste District in Indiana says that only about 20 percent of the clothing donated to places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army even gets sold, while the rest is sold to textile recyclers. The companies get money for the clothing, and that money goes towards charities. Some go to foreign markets, while some end up being used for things like insulation and upholstery stuffing.

Talk to thrift shops

The above goes for thrift stores as well as charities like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. Thrift stores often get more donations than they need and they don't just throw away the items they can't use. While some thrift stores won't take worn out clothing, some do — and they just recycle what they don't use. If you regularly go into a thrift store or you're familiar with one, go in and ask what their practices are. Be sure they aren't just throwing them away.

Drop them off at stores that will help

There are even some big-name stores that will accept old clothes and help them get recycled. Levi Strauss & Co., H&M, and The North Face stores will take your old clothes and shoes fro you, recycle them, and even give you a reward for it. According to Clark, other stores with similar programs include American Eagle Outfitters and Eileen Fisher. Madewill also takes old denim and sends it to a green company that turns it into housing insulation.

See if they can be composted

According to RecycleBank, clothing made of cotton and other natural fibers can be composted, as long as they aren't blended with synthetic fibers like polyester. To compost these, shred them finely and remove any attachments, like zippers or buttons.

Turn them into rags to use around your house

If you really don't want to go out of your way to recycle your items or drop them off somewhere, you can recycle them yourself at home. Old clothing often makes great cleaning rags. Simply cut up the clothes and turn them into rags for dusting and cleaning - you'll save money, keep your home clean, and reuse otherwise destroyed items.

Look up other textile recycling programs

There are so many more textile recycling programs out there than you'd think. To find them, you just need to do a little bit of research. Terracycle offers a Fabrics and Clothing Zero Waste Box that you can fill with clothing and fabric, then ship to Terracycle so they can repurpose it. Have old bras you don't know what to do with? The Bra Recyclers takes old bras at drop-off stations or you can even mail them in to be repurposed or recycled. Soles 4 Souls is a national shoe recycling program for your old shoes. Nike also has a Reuse-A-Shoe program where they take old athletic shoes, grind them up, and use them to create courts, fields, tracks, and playgrounds.