So, you’ve cleaned out your closet and ended up with a big bag of clothing (or three) that you don’t like, don’t fit, or simply no longer need. What on earth do you do with it?
The fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters responsible for 10% of annual CO2 emissions. Donating or disposing of used clothing properly is an important step toward mitigating its environmental effects.
Here’s a step-by-step checklist for all of your discarded duds.
1. Divide and Conquer
First, sort your stuff into three piles: great condition, good condition, and poor condition. Great-condition clothing looks new, has retained its shape perfectly, and bears no signs of wear and tear. Usable-condition clothing may be a little bit faded or worn but still in wearable condition with no stains or holes. Poor-condition clothing is stained, threadbare, or has holes in it.
2. Clothing Swaps and Consignment Stores
Great-condition clothing and accessories are excellent candidates for clothing swaps or consignment stores. To host a clothing swap, invite a handful of good friends who wear approximately the same size to bring their closet surplus, and choose and exchange clothing.
Alternately, bring your items to a consignment store in your area. They’ll sell them for you and give you a portion of the proceeds.
3. Thrift Stores/Charity Donations
Good-condition clothing can be donated to a thrift store like Value Village, Goodwill, or Salvation Army. There, the clothing is sorted, priced, and placed on the sales floor for secondhand shoppers to find. Oftentimes thrift stores use the proceeds from the sale of these items to support charity initiatives.
4. Clothing Recycling
You really shouldn’t donate your poor-condition clothing to a thrift store — you’ll waste their time when it comes time to sort, and if you’re getting rid of it because of its condition, you can bet no one else will want to wear it, either.
For those stained, torn or otherwise unwearable textiles, clothing recycling is the answer. Find a drop-off spot near you using our Recycling Locator.
Some companies like Patagonia accept their clothing items back for recycling, while fashion retailers like H&M and American Eagle Outfitters offer in-store clothing recycling bins to collect textiles and accessories of any brand, so recycling your clothing is now as easy as a trip to the mall. Check out recent Earth911 podcasts about clothing sustainability and recycling for additional information.
With new recycling companies like Supercircle and EVRNU working behind the scenes to facilitate collection and processing, more brands than ever will take their products back for recycling, including:
- American Eagle Outfitter (Jeans)
- Carter’s (in partnership with Terracycle)
- Eileen Fisher
- Fair Harbor
- For Days
- Girlfriend Collective
- Gap (in partnership with thredUP)
- Levi Strauss (jeans)
- Madewell (jeans)
- Mara Hoffman ($20 fee for mail-in bag)
- Marine Layer ($20 fee for mail-in bag)
- Parade (in partnership with Terracycle)
- Soma donation program (recycling in partnership with The Bra Recyclers)
- Universal Standard
Find a drop-off location for clothing and accessories near you using the Recycling Locator.
Frequent Clothing & Accessory Questions
How can I find a consignment store?
A simple internet search will likely turn up dozens of local stores in your city or town. (An added benefit of using a consignment store is that your dollars stay local.)
What happens to clothing when it’s recycled?
Textile recyclers sort clothing just like you did, into clothing worth wearing and clothing suitable for recycling. Textiles are sorted by color and material type and shredded to become fiberfill or stuffing. Some textiles are cut down and sold as rags, and still others are baled up and sold by weight.
What do I do with old eyewear?
There are some programs that take eyewear. OneSight collects used eyewear at large eyewear stores like Sears Optical, LensCrafters and Target Optical, then disassembles the glasses and sends them to a third-party recycler. OneSight receives payment for the raw materials recovered and then uses these funds to create entirely new prescription eyewear for those who need it.
What can I do with old footwear?
You can follow the same rules as you did for clothing. Great-condition shoes and boots can be swapped or sold, good-condition footwear can be donated, and shoes in poor condition can be dropped off for recycling at a clothing recycling collection bin.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated in February 2024.
- How 3 Clothing Processers Are Reducing Textile Waste: Learn how companies are working to keep clothing and other textiles out of landfills.
- Recycling Mystery: Can You Recycle Underwear? It might surprise you to learn that there are options for recycling underwear.
- Recycling Mystery: Clothing: What do you do with clothing that’s torn or stained to the extent that it’s no longer wearable?
- Textile Recycling Initiative Seeks to Save Fast Fashion: How (and why) retailers like H&M are getting into the textile recycling game
- Recycling Mystery: How To Recycle Your Tennis Shoes: Learn about options for keeping your sports shoes out of the landfill.
- Circle Economy: A cooperative organization based in the Netherlands that promotes and encourages textile recycling and a circular economy within the textile industry
- You Are What You Wear: Redress, an organization seeking to promote environmental sustainability, explains how you can be instrumental in reducing waste in the fashion industry