Ways to recycle old clothing

What to do with bags of old clothing that is too small for your fast-growing child?

Today is a Global Recycling Day, a good reason to finally sort out all those bags of old clothing that belonged to your child.

Here are some ideas what you can do, from giving away to making a bit of a profit.

  • The simplest way to recycle is to bring your clothing to a textile collection container, just the way you do with plastic, glass and paper.

If you want to make sure clothing will be used, give it to people you know

  • Friends and relatives with a younger child
  • A few things you can give to a kindergarten as spare clothing (same with toys)
  • You can also ask parenting communities or groups that you are a member of

Another option is to donate clothing to various organisations

You can also exchange your bags of old clothing for discount vouchers at these shops, who have teamed up with second-hand collection and recycling service I:Collect.

Or sell online (if you have time for dealing with lots of requests that don’t lead to sales)

  • Ebay
  • Willhaben (you can also sell bundles at a set price, if you can’t be bothered taking separate pictures of your stuff)
  • Spock (good for selling locally)
  • Facebook Marketplace or Second-hand/Flohmarkt groups
  • Vinted.at
  • Percentil (send a bundle of second-hand clothing, shoes and accessories to Percentil to get a 20eur voucher to shop on the platform)

Second-hand clothing online trade is flourishing, just google, you will find many more second-hand marketplaces and apps.

And now let’s have a look behind the scenes.

As soon as you give clothing to any organisations, it becomes a commodity as well as a resource, but it won’t be recycled or reused 100%.

  • In Europe around 50% of collected clothing will be reused.

Stuff in good condition and from well-known brands will be resold in Europe. Some will be given for charitable causes (refugees, homeless people, mothers and children in difficult circumstances etc.).

Some clothing will be bundled and sold by weight to second-hand clothing dealers in the third world countries. (While it was a good short term solution, long term second-hand trade is damaging for local textile industry in Africa. Countries in East Africa are considering imposing ban on second-hand clothing imports).

  • Clothes that can’t be sold will be reused as rugs or insulation for automotive and oil industry (Around 35% of donated textiles in Europe). The problem here is that the quality of textiles is going down, and industries increasingly turning to newly made rugs because of price/quality considerations.
  • Some proportion will be mechanically or chemically reprocessed and turned into raw materials. (Some dog charity shops use donated textiles to make beds and mats for dogs, for example). The trick here, that a vast proportion of clothing is made of mixed fibres (cotton and elastane for example) and using different dyes. Firstly, it’s not easy to identify all the fibers and chemicals used in production of textiles. And secondly to apply a unified solution to turn them into a raw material again. Technology of textile processing is only beginning to develop.
  • Everything else will end up as a waste or energy source.

While it’s nice to think that someone will wear your son’s favourite t-shirt with a monkey print, the reality is more complex. Only about 15% of consumer-used textiles will be recycled in total. And even with these numbers second-hand is a mounting problem.

In addition to that, second-hand trade is not as charitable as you think. It relies heavily on manual sorting of goods, employing immigrant workers, majority of whom are women.

For this reason, try to make sure your clothing stays longer in the lifecycle – choose quality clothing with growing features 😉, give old clothes in good condition to people you know or upcycle, be creative!

Recycling is good, but it’s not a silver bullet for our consumer society – doing more with less is better!

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