Do you know where to recycle old clothes? If you answered no to this question… I don't blame you! While sustainability certifications can be useful when purchasing more eco-friendly clothing options and avoiding greenwashing, many certifications only look at a product's sourcing, manufacturing, and production.
Knowing where to recycle old clothes in an eco-friendly way is a whole different story!
Think of it this way, certifications like Global Recycled Standards (GRS) and OEKO-Tex 100 can’t necessarily certify or guarantee sustainable end-of-life since this responsibility falls largely on us consumers. While you might be able to recycle a garment, if it still ends up in the trash bin after just a few wears, is it really that sustainable?
Clothing Recycling Programs Offered by Companies
Repurposing and/or repairing an item is always a significant first step before recycling (FYI, not taking these steps first is one of the biggest textile recycling mistakes I see people make). But, let’s say an item can no longer be repaired or repurposed. How do we know where to recycle worn-out clothing?
Here is my top list of where to recycle old clothes!
Terracycle has recycling programs and drop-off locations worldwide! For their US-based customers, they have a Zero Waste Box™ that you can use to send them ANY textile or fabric-based product.
Their boxes come in multiple different sizes at various price ranges, so you have options:
- The Small Zero Waste Box is 11" x 11" x 20" and costs $95.20
- The Medium Zero Waste Box is 11" x 11" x 40" and costs $146.30
- The Large Zero Waste Box is 15" x 15" x 37" and costs $241.50
The program is pretty simple. All you need to do is fill your zero waste box with the fabric waste you’d like to recycle, then you can send your box back to Terracycle using a prepaid shipping label, and they will recycle all of your fabrics, the box itself, and the box liner! I would highly recommend that you recycle used clothes with TerraCycle!
Please note they don't accept liners, hats, bags, shoes, purses, and heated blankets.
I love Retold Recycling! They are another mail-based recycling service for unwanted clothes.
To participate in their textile recycling program, the first step is to order one of their bags or sign up for a bag subscription. Once your bag arrives in the mail, you can fill it with old clothes you want to recycle. Best of all, they take pretty much everything, even wedding dresses.
Next, drop off your bag at your local post box or mail room. Retold will then sort your goods, sending them to thrift stores, donation centers, recyclers, resellers, and up-cyclers.
No item will go to the landfill with their #nolandfill policy! This even includes their collection bags since they are made from cornstarch and are entirely biodegradable and compostable. Cool!
HELPSY is a for-profit B Corp on a mission to change how we recycle our clothes. They are currently the largest clothing collector in the Northeast US and have over 2,200 collection containers helping to divert 29 million pounds of clothing from landfill every year.
To participate, you can use their donation bin locator tool to find the closest indoor or outdoor drop-off point near you.
They have a long list of what they will accept regarding used clothing and accessories…
- Footwear: shoes, heels, flats, sandals, flip flops, boots, sneakers, cleats, and slippers.
- Clothes: tops, sweaters, sweatshirts, dresses, outerwear, bottoms, suits, pajamas, intimates, and baby clothes.
- Accessories: hats, bags, belts, gloves, ties, scarves, and bathrobes.
They ask for donated items to be clean, dry, odorless, and in a closed plastic bag before donating them.
If you live in NYC, Wearable Collections will be your new favorite for recycling unwanted clothing, shoes, and textiles! According to their website, they keep 95% of what they collect from landfills, so you can feel good about using their service. They have a few different programs they do this by….
- Bins in buildings: They place collection bins in commercial and residential buildings across NYC (there is a $20 fee for residential pickups).
- Donation dives: They partner with schools and other organizations to run clothing drives.
- Greenmarkets: They have booths running at 8 of GrowNYC’s weekly Greenmarkets throughout the city.
- End-of-use expert service: They offer one on one expert service where they will create custom solutions for overstock, damages, and returns for apparel brands.
If your clothing is still in good condition, you can consider donating your clothes or participating in a gift program like the ones below…
This grassroots nonprofit network based in Tucson, Arizona, comprises over 5,000 local Town groups with over 9 million members worldwide!
Here is how it works… All you need to do is sign up for a free membership at Freecycle.org to join one or more town groups. You then post on their platform about what items you want to “gift or receive,” and other members of the network reply, and you can arrange a pickup time and location with them.
This is a great way to give used textile items a new life!
Have you ever heard of Trash Nothing? They have a similar concept to Freecycle!
When you have a textile item you want to recycle, take a photo and briefly describe the item you're giving away on their platform. People in your area can then message you if they are interested in your item, and you can schedule a pickup time and place.
Trash Nothing has thousands of local groups from all around the world! In the United States, they have local partners in New York, Washington, Seattle, and San Francisco. Through Trash Nothing, over 8 million people worldwide are giving and getting free stuff and helping to divert textile waste from landfills.
The Buy Nothing Project is a network of “gift economies” that has inspired Facebook groups worldwide! Members of the groups can gift and swap items, where all items are assumed to have equal value. If you are active on Facebook, type “Buy Nothing” into the search bar to find the nearest group near you. I have been using these groups for a while to find recycled old clothes near me!
Sharewear Clothing Scheme is very cool. Through a UK-based referral system for individuals and an outreach service for organizations, they have provided free clothing and bedding to needy people! Since 2014, they have supported over 80,000 people! And in the last year, they have diverted 93 tonnes of clothes from the landfill.
To donate, you can drop off your used clothes at their donation center in Nottingham, donate by post, or donate through their referral program to ensure your donated item stays in your area.
9. B.R.A (The Bra Recycling Agency)
B.R.A. has been recycling used bras since 2010! They have a few different packages you can use to do this….
- Free: Users can request a one-time free postage label to send their used bras to be recycled.
- Deluxe: Users can buy a subscription to recycle an unlimited number of bras for one a year for just $15.
- Basic: Users can recycle unlimited bras one time for $15.
Please note the user pays for postage in all the packages above (they are based in NY).
I align with B.R.A’s mission, and I believe lingerie can be sustainable and recycled if we remove the stigma! Another thing I love about their program is that proceeds for underwire metal recycling are 100% donated to Breast Cancer Research!
Clothing Recycling Programs Offered by Brands
Some brands that are a little more eco-conscious and sell recycled and upcycled clothing also offer clothes recycling programs in-store or online.
ThredUP's Clean-Out Closet service allows you to earn store shopping credits by recycling your clothes with them. All you need to do is print out a Clean Out shipping label and fill your threadUp bag or any shippable box with clothes you no longer wear or use.
Patagonia has an excellent Take Back Program that upcycles old Patagonia T-shirts into their “Tee-Cycle” collection, which can be recycled repeatedly. We also love Patagonia’s collection of sustainable kids’ and men’s clothes and their options for gloves, backpacks, and even cute sweatpants.
Knickey recycling program is a simple way to recycle your old underwear, bras, socks, and tights. Your old intimates will be turned into new materials like insulation, carpet padding, and furniture batting. If you recycle through their program, you can earn 15% off your next order. And if you are in the market for new organic undies or sustainable bras, they have those covered too!
13. Eileen Fisher
Eileen Fisher’s Renew Program allows customers to return clothes to any US-based Eileen Fisher or Renew store and receive $5 in “Renew Rewards” for each returned piece. They will then ship your items directly to a recycling center.
Through Pact’s Give Back Box®, customers can reuse the box their Past order came in, and after printing out a prepaid shipping label, they can fill the box with used clothes and send it back to Pact, where Pact will donate the items to one of the five local charities that are part of the Give Back Box® program.
Tonlé has a circular trading and resale platform for pre-love tonlé clothes. Customers can subscribe and rent 3-5 items per month! Ensure you also check out what they offer regarding ethical scarves, sustainable dresses, or upcycled clothing.
You can send this retailer your old Girlfriend Collective items, and they will turn them into new items for resale! When you participate, you will also get $15 towards your next purchase. Shop for things like ethical maternity wear, yoga clothes, and swimwear.
17. Hanky Panky
Through a partnership with Green Tree, Hanky Panky will take your unwanted underwear, bras, or socks, where they will be shredded, recycled, and processed into industrial insulation.
We love what the sustainable fashion brand Reformation is doing. They have implemented a recycling program in partnership with SuperCircle called RefRecycling. The program is designed to help customers recycle their old clothes and jeans, which may have otherwise ended up in the trash, by offering them credit for new Ref items.
Customers can send in their used items in any condition that SuperCircle, a textile recycling company, will recycle. Once the items are recycled, customers will receive a credit towards new Ref items, which they can use on the Reformation website.
The Importance of Clothing Recycling Programs: Why You Should Use Them
First off, we throw out A LOT of clothes that could have been donated. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 2018, 11.3 million tonnes of textiles were sent to a landfill in the United States. This number represented 7.7% of all municipal landfill waste.
Second, not all fabrics are created equal; some are more sustainable than others. About 65% of the clothes we see in the stores today are synthetic or semi-synthetic, like polyester, lycra, spandex, and nylon (AKA they are made of plastic!). Fast fashion is partially to blame here for helping to popularize fabrics that were cheaper and easier to produce, but these are awful for the environment!
Chemicals and synthetic fabric dyes can play a significant role in producing synthetic textiles from plastic polymers. These fabrics are also usually cheap and flimsy and don't last nearly as long as natural fabrics like organic cotton.
This means the chances of these items being sent to a landfill rather than donated are much higher. When sent to a landfill, these synthetic fabrics will take HUNDREDS of years to decompose, releasing microfibres that ultimately end up in the natural environment.
Sending your clothes (made from natural AND synthetic fibers) can help divert millions of pounds of waste from landfills. So, now that we understand the importance of recycling textiles let's chat about which companies have recycling programs for clothes!
A final word: where to donate your old clothes
Finding where to recycle old clothes doesn’t have to be a headache! No matter where you live (or what kind of clothes you try to recycle), there are plenty of options.
If you try out any of the options I talked about today, you can rest easy knowing your old clothes aren’t contributing to more landfill waste and you are reducing your carbon footprint at the same time. It's a win-win for everyone. If you found this post helpful, please help someone by sharing this article – Sharing is caring 🙂!