5 Clothing Recycling Mistakes You May Be Making

On Sunday it's Global Recycling Day (March 18th) and for this post, we are going to focus on issues related to textile production, consumption, and waste in Canada.

The average person throws away 37 kilograms of textiles annually and 95 percent of the clothes could be reused, re-worn, or recycled. We caught up with our friends at Fashion Takes Action (FTA) to help us with 5 clothing recycling mistakes you may be making without even knowing it and what we can do about it!

Most of our used textile waste is not reused or re-purposed and in many cases is shipped to developing countries where there is little to no information available on what should happen to the clothes when they arrive at their final destinations!

Clothing Recycling Mistake 1 – Tossing Out Damaged Clothing

Many clothes like shoes, socks, bras and jeans with rips or holes are disposed of rather than donated, but with a little DIY or expert skill, there could be many more wears left in your faves. Learn to sew a button on by hand, fix a fallen hem, or patch a rip in your pants. Watch a tutorial online, or take a course at a community sewing hub to learn your way around a sewing machine. Why hide your repairs?

Take up visible mending; it’s a way to turn holes in sweaters and rips in pants into beautiful and colourful stitching embellishments. Not your speed? Sew a premade embroidery patch over it. You can even design your own! If your shoes are leather, or your garment needs professional help, cobblers and tailors can be your wardrobe’s new best friend.

Also, many textiles can be recycled — even your undies and holey socks. They can go in the donation bin along with household textiles and clean, dry garments, shoes and accessories.

a close up of textile waste. Pin

The more we divert textiles from landfill, the more we can reuse, repair and recycle materials, and the more we can decrease our GHG emissions which are creating climate change. For every 1 kg of textiles that decay in landfill, there are 4 kg of carbon dioxide emitted.

More and more fashion brands, such as Zara, Mango, and H&M, have take-back programs in their stores. Bring in your unwanted clothes—even from other brands. (Often there is a discount given towards your next purchase, so use with your conscious-consumer radar on.)

Look for garments and shoes made from recycled textiles and ocean plastic waste when you shop. Levis, H&M, Matt & Nat, G-Star Raw and Adidas all have recycled content options. When shopping, be conscious of packaging and hang-tags that are recycled or recyclable.

Better yet, refuse to purchase garments that are over-packaged and definitely refuse a bag with your purchase, as most cannot easily be recycled. There’s a difference between clothing made from recycled materials and clothing that can itself be recycled.

To learn about the difference watch “How Plastic Bottles are Recycled into Polyester”.  Making new materials from recycled clothing is a whole other process, complicated by the fact that most of our garments are made from mixed fibres (i.e. natural and synthetic).

New technology is coming, but at this point, only pure fibres can easily be recycled into new textiles (they can be shredded and recycled into the car-seat stuffing and home insulation, though).

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Clothing Recycling Mistake #2  - Not Reusing Your Clothing Enough

Getting away from the stigma of wearing the same outfit more than once, instead: Be a proud Outfit Repeater! Use your creativity to wear an item 30 times or more. Follow the #30wears tag on social media to find other people who are striving for the same thing. Shop thrift, consignment, and vintage. Thrift stores are simply second-hand clothing markets with very little curation, but you can often find treasure.

Consignment shops and thrift shops are shops where people sell their own clothes and the shop owner keeps a profit as well. They may sell fast fashion brands or high-end. Vintage clothing shops sell items from specific eras, usually high-quality styles two-to-three decades old.

There are many ways to exchange clothes without money e.g. hand-me-downs from siblings or cousins, attending swaps, or using a bartering app, such as Bunz, where you can get a new pair of leather boots in exchange for someone’s house plant, books, or unwanted gadget  

Clothing Recycling Mistake #3 - Not Doing Enough Research

A lot of the time is just easier to throw stuff out and because we never get to see where it ends up, we are totally disconnected from it. Before you toss it or recycle it, do some research! Use Instagram and Facebook to help you find Maker Fairs, local independent retailers, and brands that you’d like to support.

INLAND, the One of a Kind Show and Etsy are all venues to find makers who produce locally and in smaller batches (which reduces waste and carbon footprint from fewer kilometres travelled) Research the big global brands you want to support and the brands you don’t. Use an app such as Good On You or search for a brand’s annual sustainability report to help you make your decision. Visit our Brand Directory.

Clothing Recycling Mistake #4- Not Reducing Consumption 

 The biggest mistake consumers make is they buy more than they need. In order to facilitate change, we need to really think about the purchases we make and ask ourselves “do I really need this?” We also need to be more mindful of the life cycle of the items we are buying. How was designed and produced; what materials were used; what responsibility is the manufacturer/retailer taking for the product; what are the options when you no longer want it, can it be donated, reused, or recycled.

Try shopping for VALUE instead of COST. Investment pieces that can be worn through the seasons for many years have a cost per wear that makes them more inexpensive than fast fashion! The value of a garment also increases when it has an emotional appeal of some kind (e.g. “this was such a good vintage find”, “I love this design and saved my money for it”, or remembering special circumstances around the purchase, such as travel.)

If you crave variety, use your creativity to reduce your need for new outfits. Style a smaller capsule wardrobe multiple different ways by “shopping your closet” with different pairings, layers, and accessories.

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Clothing Recycling Mistake # 5 -  Not Caring For Your Clothes Properly

Buy clothes that are quality made, these sustainable clothing brands are amazing, they may cost a bit more, but you will get more out of them. Make sure you follow the care tags closely and don't wash your clothes as often as you do right now! Jeans can be worn 4-5 times before being laundered.

This is an amazing resource you can refer to on how to take care of your clothes. Line dry your clothing if you can, use natural detergents or even better zero waste laundry brands, and get to know the settings on your washer and dryer. Store your clothes well by investing in good hangers, hang items that need to be hangers and fold things like jeans and sweaters.

Also, if you are storing your clothes make sure it's in a cool dark place. 70% of clothes we throw away have damage such as colour fading, stains or shrinking. Research ways to remove stains, proper laundering techniques for textiles, how to iron (so you can avoid the expense and toxicity of dry cleaning), or how to dry your clothes to use minimal energy. All of these will help your loved clothes last longer.

These are 5 Clothing Recycling Mistakes You May Be Making, did you find this article useful? Let us know in the comments below.

I've got a ton of resources here in The Eco Hub to help guide you to a more sustainable wardrobe.

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  1. Clothing made from ocean plastic is not a sustainable option. Clothing made from plastic, even polyester, shreds off micro plastics in the washing machine leading to plastic that cannot be filtered from our waterways. Instead, recommend sustainable fabrics like cotton, linen, silk, hemp, and leather.