Clothing consumption has skyrocketed in the past few decades, with North American consumers now buying 500 percent more than we did just 25 years ago. And while we’re buying more clothes than ever, the clothing is often so poorly made that it rarely lasts longer than one trend cycle.
So what happens to our clothing when we’re done wearing it?
Well, in North America, collectively 85 percent of our wardrobe will eventually end up in the landfill. That works out to more than 10 million tons of clothing. Statistics like this make it imperative that more of us become educated and aware of clothing recycling. Donating or recycling your clothing is a great way to lessen the environmental impact of your shopping habit, but it’s also really important to be doing it right.
Here are three clothing recycling mistakes that you may have been making without even knowing it.
Mistake #1: Skipping Social Media
We often don’t think of using social media to connect our unwanted items with those who could really use them, but it’s a great option, especially for clothing. When you donate clothing to a secondhand store, it gets sorted and priced for sale. On the racks in a thrift store, it may get purchased by someone, but it might also languish there for months, only to be disposed of eventually instead.
Joining a Facebook group is a fantastic way to offer free, gently worn clothing to people who really need it. This is especially useful if you’re getting rid of specific items (like clothing for a 2- or 3-year-old boy, for example, or maternity wear you no longer need). Post pictures of the clothing you’re offering, what size it is, and where to pick it up, and you’ll likely have a handful of people clamoring to come pick it up.
Not only is this incredibly easy for you, but the clothing goes directly to the person who needs it. No searching through the racks, no middleman, no need for money to change hands.
There are free Facebook groups in almost every city and they’re a great way to offer almost anything — especially things you can’t usually sell, like opened cosmetics, slightly damaged furniture in need of repair and, yes, even your old wardrobe! To find one close to you, just search “free [your city/town]” and see what pops up.
Mistake #2: Choosing the Wrong Organization
Whether you’re donating to one of those ubiquitous clothing donation bins that seems to be in the parking lot of every big-box store or directly to the drop-off location of a local thrift shop or secondhand store, it’s important that you understand what they accept and why.
Clothing donation bins usually have information written on the side about what items they accept — some are exclusively for items of clothing, while others accept household items, too. It’s important to ensure that you’re not donating items that the organization doesn’t accept. Most organizations are volunteer-run, and by donating things they don’t accept and can’t process, you end up wasting their time and decreasing the chance that your clothes will find a good second life.
Mistake #3: Throwing Out Damaged Clothing
Many people opt to throw out damaged clothing rather than including it in their clothing donation bin. After all, if you don’t want those holey socks and stained T-shirts, why would anyone else?
The problem with this mind-set is that many clothing donation bins sort their clothing donations into three distinct recycling streams: clothing that’s good enough to sell in America, clothing that gets baled up and sold overseas in bulk, and clothing that gets cut up to be sold as rags or shredded to be used as fiberfill. And while you’re right that there isn’t much consumer demand for mustard-stained dresses or ratty underwear, these items are eligible to be included in that last waste stream.
The best way to know if your local thrift store or donation bin accepts worn-out or damaged clothing for this alternate recycling stream is to call them and ask!
By avoiding these clothing recycling mistakes, we can make a massive dent in those 10.5 million tons of discarded clothing clogging our landfills. Getting your gently used clothing into the hands of those who need it most, those who can process it appropriately, and those who repurpose it for a different use entirely is a great way to do just that.
Feature photo courtesy of Shutterstock