Diverting our old garments from the waste stream is a great way of reducing our environmental footprint when so much of it just winds up in already strained landfills. And because of this many of us are wondering what to do with old socks in particular and it turns out that there are lots of accessible alternatives that are better than a ride to the local garbage dump.
So in this article, we’ll be exploring just why you’re so awesome for looking into this, and the many ways you can make the most out of your old socks while reducing your environmental footprint.
Why recycle your old socks?
Every year North Americans send over 10 million tonnes of clothing to landfills, and the average person is responsible for discarding an average of 37 kilograms of textiles per year, of which only about 14.7% is recycled, where 95% of the clothing that wind up in landfills could either be reused or recycled. We now even have the option to sell our used clothes online.
To make matters worse though, these garments require lots of resources to be fabricated in the first place, most of which are not sustainably or ethically fabricated.
As it stands, the fashion industry alone consumes about 79 million cubic meters of fresh water and the textile industry contributes to about 10% of the total global carbon impact every year.
With these high levels of resource consumption and important contributions to carbon emissions, it all adds up to an awful waste.
Diverting waste to landfills through reuse, recycling, and composting can be extremely helpful when it comes to our global trash problem as well. According to a recent World Bank study, the world’s nations generate 1.3 billion tons of waste every year. The U.S. is responsible for most of this trash, producing around 258 million tonnes of waste a year or around 4.4 pounds of trash per person per day.
Where space is not a concern, landfills also pose environmental problems including groundwater contamination along with negative impacts on local ecosystems and animal life.
Finding sustainable alternatives for disposing of your old jeans, old bras, and old socks is therefore beneficial in many ways. And there are many options (with varying levels of involvement) to help you with this aspect of your sustainable living journey.
What to do with old socks?
So what to do with those old socks then? Well, it’s actually quite simple. You can either repair them, recycle them, compost them, repurpose them or donate them depending on their condition.
Don’t be afraid to dive into some light crafts as well if you have the time. There are lots of really great ideas out there that make great use of all those fun mismatched pairs you might have lying around.
Repair your old socks
Repairing your old garments can go a long way in extending their lifespan. Yes, even your old socks. This is perfect if you are wondering what to do with old socks with holes. You may be surprised how far a little thread and needle can go in keeping your favorite socks in the rotation.
The key is to catch holes early and to mend them before they are too large or the fabric becomes too fragile to fix adequately. If you are not sure how to go about it, you will find some helpful tutorials online.
Consider Recycling programs
If you’re wondering how to dispose of old socks, recycling them is the best way to make sure that they do not wind up incinerated or in landfills along with the estimated 92 million tonnes of textiles waste created every year.
Some cities offer recycling programs that recycle used textiles free of charge either using drop-off bins or free curbside pick-ups. If you do find some bins do make sure that they are for clothing recycling programs and not donation programs.
Other options include companies like the American Textile Recycling Services which uses drop-off bins to collect and recycle your old garments.
The Council for Textile Recycling is also a great option. A nonprofit, CTR offers consumers the ability to donate and recycle clothing, footwear, household textiles, and accessories in the US, Canada, and other countries around the globe.
You may also be able to use Simple Recycling in select locations in the United States. They offer a free home pickup service for recycling clothing, shoes, and small home goods.
Companies like Terracycle offer the option to pay for your old items to be recycled for you. And brands like Pact and The North Face will accept clothing of any brand for recycling. Patagonia will accept your old Patagonia gear, recycle it for you and give you store credit.
While I hope these options will be suitable for your needs, a search for ‘textile recycling companies near me’ may also bring up better options based on your location as it did for me.
Compost your old socks
A great option if you’re wondering what to do with old wool socks, composting can be one of the best ways to avoid sending waste to landfills. Using your compost heap you can turn your food scraps, cardboard, old socks, and even your old jeans into plant food. The catch is they must be made of 100% natural fibers that can be broken down by the microorganisms at work in your compost.
Eco friendly socks made from fabrics like hemp, organic cotton, linen, bamboo fabric, or wool will be perfectly fine if they are not blended with synthetic fabrics that do not do well when it comes to decomposition and stand to contaminate your heap.
So when considering this option do make sure your old socks are biodegradable and compostable before chopping them up and tossing them in there.
In the same vein, consider shopping with sustainable brands that will either take back their old products, or ones that offer recycling programs like Smartwool, which has a program called Second Cut™ Project and is described on the website like this:
"Join the recycled sock movement with the official Smartwool® Second Cut™ Project mail-in bag. We’re partnering with Material Return™ circularity platform to collect and deconstruct hard-to-recycle socks and turn them into new goods. Send us your unwanted (but clean) socks of any brand or material and we’ll make sure they make their way into a new product and not a landfill. Simply add the bag to your cart at checkout. The bag includes a pre-paid shipping label so all you have to do is gather your unwanted socks, attach the label, and drop it off."
Project to transform socks of all brands, colors, sizes, and materials into things like eco-friendly dog beds. Just download a return label from their website, make sure your socks are cleaned and unrolled, and mail them in.
Repurpose your old socks
Repurposing your old socks is another great way of keeping them out of landfills. They can be used as alternatives to umbrella covers, dry erase board erasers, dusters, packing paper, shoe protectors, impromptu oven mitts, or as a clever alternative to mop pads for zero waste cleaning. If you are a gofer use those old socks to protect your golf club.
There are lots of clever ideas on the internet so be sure to have a look around for inspiration. Some people have even taken to curling their hair using socks which is especially perfect if you’re wondering what to do with old mismatched socks and even your old socks with holes.
Dive into some DIYs
For a super fun take on diverting your old socks from the waste stream, there are also lots of great craft ideas. With some ingenuity and sometimes you can turn your old socks into things like koozies, decorative pen pots, DIY heat pads, or even a pencil case.
Donating old socks
If you’re wondering where to donate old socks, it is best that they be unworn.
Donation centers and other entities that receive your donations cannot make use of unwearable items and do not send them to be recycled as you might assume. Just like us they can resort to tossing them out in the trash, destined for landfill.
Even though you might mean well, your used socks may only wind up at the landfill or the incinerator just as they would have if you’d tossed them out yourself. So if you do choose this option make sure to donate honestly and mindfully.
That aside there are several options when it comes to donating your old socks including donation drop-off boxes, local charities, homeless shelters, women’s shelters, or any other organizations accepting donations.
A simple web search will let you know which of these options is available near you. Be sure to check if they are open to receiving your donations at this time.
You can also keep an eye out for donation drop-off bins around your town but if they are overflowing that is a good sign not to add your donations to the pile.
Bottom line when it comes to what to do with old socks!
When it comes to your old socks, there are lots of things you can do with them that do not involve the landfill. You can donate them, have them recycled, repurpose them in other useful ways, craft them into something entirely new, or have them join the worms in your compost heap.
Choosing sustainable products like eco-friendly bamboo socks by sustainable brands from the very beginning is also a great way of facilitating disposal as well. Where possible be sure to match those eco-friendly socks with some eco friendly kicks too!
Did you know we have a ton of guides here on The Eco Hub that will help you get rid of your old stuff responsibly including:
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