Ways to recycle old clothing

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

Today is Global Recycling Day, so it is a good time to sort out all those bags of your child’s old clothes. If you are wondering what to do next, here are some tips how you can recycle old clothing.

If you are looking for ways to recycle your clothes, well done! Only about 22% of textiles used by consumers are collected for reuse or recycling, while the rest is often incinerated or landfilled.

Do you want to give that monkey print T-shirt a happy second life because you have so many fond memories of your son wearing it? There are many reasons why we want to recycle old clothing – sentimental, environmental, practical. But whatever the reason, the reality is more complex.  Let’s take a look at what happens to an old T-shirt once it’s been dropped off at a recycling bin.

This will help you make informed decisions about recycling old clothes, and maybe even about buying new ones.

The easiest way to recycle clothing is to take it to a textile collection point (often marked with the name of a charity on whose behalf it is being collected), just as you do with plastic, glass and paper.

Clothes donated to an organisation become both a commodity and a resource

But they won’t be 100% recycled or reused.

  • In Europe, about 50% of collected clothing is reused.
  • Clothes in very good condition and from well-known brands are resold in Europe. Some will be donated to charities (refugees, homeless people, mothers and children in difficult circumstances, etc.).
  • Some clothes are bundled and sold by weight to second-hand clothing dealers in developing countries. While this was a good short-term solution, in the long term the second-hand trade is detrimental to the local textile industry in Africa. What’s more, the dealers can’t choose the contents of the bundles and may end up with unsellable clothes – unsuitable for the climate, damaged or of poor quality. These clothes will inevitably end up in landfills, polluting soil and oceans (leaking microplastics and toxic chemicals). Countries in East Africa are considering banning the import of used clothing.
  • In Europe, around 35% of donated textiles that can’t be sold are reused as rugs or insulation for the car and oil industries. The problem here is that the quality of the textiles is deteriorating and the industries are increasingly turning to newly manufactured rugs for price/quality reasons.
  • A small percentage will be mechanically or chemically processed and turned into raw materials. (For example, dog charity shops use donated textiles to make beds and mats for dogs). The trick is that a large proportion of clothing is made from mixed fibres (for example, cotton and elastane) and using different dyes. This makes it extremely difficult to recycle these materials into new ones. Firstly, it’s not easy to identify the fibre content and chemicals used in the production of textiles. And secondly, to apply a uniform solution to turn them back into a raw material. Textile processing technology is only just beginning to develop.
  • Everything else ends up as waste or an energy source.
  • What’s more, while the average consumer associates the Second-Hand trade with charity, the key word here is trade. This industry exists for profit and relies heavily on manual sorting of goods and not so charitable practices such as employing migrant workers on very low wages, the majority of whom are women.

Only about 15% of textiles used by consumers are recycled.

Once you’ve dropped your bag of clothes at a recycling centre, you have no way of knowing or influencing whether your clothes will have a second life or end up in a landfill, polluting the environment.

But the list of items accepted and not accepted for sale at Percentil can give you a pretty good idea of which of your clothes, when left at a recycling bin, has a chance of being sold and having a second life, and which has a higher chance of simply becoming textile waste, even if you didn’t mean it to be.

What can you do to make sure your clothes have a longer life?

Here are some ideas  – from giving it away to making a little profit.

1. Choose quality clothes

and go for grow along children’s clothes, for example Babbily leggings and trousers – your child will wear them for over a year and they can be passed on.

2. Give old clothes in good condition to people you know.

    • Friends and family with a younger child
    • To a nursery as spare clothes (same with toys)
    • Give them to parents’ associations or groups
    • Sometimes charities or groups ask for direct donations of clothes.

3. Sell old clothes offline or online

(if you have time to deal with lots of questions that don’t always lead to sales)

  • Private flea markets / second-hand markets. You can hire a table or organise your own small one.
  • Ebay
  • Willhaben (you can also sell bundles for a set price if you don’t have time to take pictures of each item)
  • Spock (good for local sales)
  • Facebook Marketplace or Secondhand/Flohmarkt groups
  • Vinted.at
  • Percentil (send a bundle of second-hand clothes, shoes and accessories to Percentil and get a 15€ voucher for shopping on the platform)

The online second-hand clothing trade is thriving – just Google for more second-hand marketplaces and apps.

4. Upcycle and be creative

If you have the time and a bit of a creative spark,. What can you do with old clothes? The possibilities are endless

  • Useful organisers around the house – bags, pouches, shoe bags, textile baskets, pencil cases, etc.
  • Clothing accessories – bags, purses, shawls, scarves, headbands, summer hats, etc.
  • Children’s clothing – dresses, skirts, shorts, etc.
  • And many, many more

5. Donate old clothes to charity

6. Trade your old clothing for discount vouchers

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

Conclusion

We’ve looked at what happens behind the scenes when you drop off a bag of old clothes at a textile collection centre. We also looked at the options, from giving it away, to making a small profit, to trading in your old clothes for discount vouchers.

If your reason for recycling old clothes is the environment, it pays to be a little more proactive in giving your old clothes a second life. Taking a bag of old clothes to a charity container doesn’t guarantee that your clothes will be given a second life. It may still end up in landfill and pollute the environment. Buy good quality and give as much as you can to people you know who will make good use of it.

But remember, recycling is not a silver bullet. The best way to deal with old clothes is to make less of them in the first place and to shop sustainably.

Have a look at Babbily Leggings and Trousers – made from high quality organic cotton with reinforced knees, they replace 3-4 standard pairs and can be passed down. Happy shopping

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Forest green Forest green
Patina red Patina red
Savannah Savannah
84,99  incl. VAT, excl. delivery
Blue Denim Blue Denim
Forest green Forest green
Patina red Patina red
Savannah Savannah
+1
48,99  incl. VAT, excl. delivery
Cosmic BlueCosmic Blue
Martian Sky Martian Sky
Navy Navy
44,99  incl. VAT, excl. delivery
Blue Denim Blue Denim
Forest green Forest green
Patina red Patina red
Savannah Savannah
+1
48,99  incl. VAT, excl. delivery
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44,99  incl. VAT, excl. delivery
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Galaxy Galaxy
Jump Jump
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Supernova Supernova
44,99  incl. VAT, excl. delivery
New
Galaxy Galaxy
Jump Jump
Nebula Nebula
Supernova Supernova
44,99  incl. VAT, excl. delivery

 

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