Fabric Recycling Strategies For Conscious Consumers

How many pounds of clothing does the average American send to landfill every year? 

70 pounds! Yes, that’s how much material we’re wasting each year. 

That’s 11.5 million tonnes of textiles in landfills and roughly 5% of every landfill is made up of fabric waste! 

And there’s no need for this.

Fabrics aren’t waste just because they’ve been used.  They can be reused and recycled for a very long time.

So let’s see how you can recycle your fabrics at home.


Reuse Before Fabric Recycling

However, as any sustainable fashion blogger will tell you, before you look to recycle, you should look to reuse your fabrics. (Though your second best option is to use sustainable fabrics).

And if your clothes are in good condition, you ought to consider sending them to an online thrift store and getting some cash back on them. 

In fact, it’s estimated that up to 95% of our material waste could have simply been reused. 


So, Which Fabrics Can Be Recycled?

It might surprise you but all fabrics can be recycled. 

Yes, even the most battered pair of old underpants can have a new and useful life, if it’s allowed to do so.

Clothes are super easy to deal with. 

recycled clothes

If they’re not fit for a thrift store sale, they can be donated to a charity, a church, a community organization, take your pick. 

And yes, this is “recycling” rather than “re-use” because while some of these clothes may get new owners, others will be repurposed for their material. 

However, please don’t dump shredded garments and things that are clearly never going to be worn again on these organizations, take these scraps and recycle them yourself.


How Do You Recycle Fabric?

Sadly, you can’t just put fabric in the recycling bin for your local waste collection because most of these services won’t recycle fabrics.

What you can do, however, is get in touch with a local fabric recycling program (just Google for one) and arrange for them to collect anything that you think is too shabby to donate. 

Please, make sure that you clean these fabrics and that you dry them properly before you hand them over.

bringing fabrics to recycle

This is because dirty and/or wet textiles are a breeding ground for fungi and bacteria. 

If they are allowed to thrive, they will ruin the textiles you donate, they will contaminate other textiles at the center and worse, they can lead to spontaneous combustion!

So, ironically if you donate wet clothes, you may end up starting a fire at the recycling center. 

Please don’t. 


How Are These Fabrics Then Recycled?

When they are ready for processing, your fabrics will be sorted into piles of natural and synthetic materials. 

They may also be sorted by type of goods and by color. 

Then they either pull out the fibers or shred the textile and turn it into yarn.

They clean (and if necessary dye) this yarn.

Then it’s spun back into the kind of yarn that they make textiles from and can be knitted and woven into new garments or products!


What Happens If The Fabric Can’t Be Turned Into Yarn?

The good news is that fabric is not wasted if it can’t be turned into yarn.

Instead, it gets compressed and torn up to form insulation or filling for pillows, mattresses, etc. 

turning a shirt into yarn

And in the specific case of polyester-based textile products, they melt these down to form polyester chips.

These chips can then be turned into new textiles or used for other purposes in the plastics industry. 


What Happens If I Can’t Donate A Fabric For Recycling?

Thanks to the coronavirus crisis, many recycling services are closed either temporarily or permanently. 

That doesn’t mean you should throw out any fabric that you have.

Instead, you should try to upcycle the scraps, for example, you could make a braided rug or use them as drying cloths. 

It’s also worth noting that if you have any 100% cotton textiles hanging around in the pile that they are fully biodegradable – you can always pop them in your composting bin and use them to feed your garden!


Final Thoughts On Fabric Recycling

Everyone should be reusing or recycling their waste fabric. 

If they did, our landfills would, automatically, be 5% emptier each year and we’d all save money as well as the planet. 

So, next time you find yourself tempted to throw out a towel or a piece of old clothing, think twice and see what else you can do with it. 

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  1. Funny but I’ve been upcycling/recycling fabric for years. Worn sheets get turned into linings/interfacing for garments or overwrap for the animals we’ve butchered, clothes get remade or recycled into cleaning clothes or braided or crocheted rugs, scrap fabric goes into quilts. One of our neighbors makes intriguing double sided queensize quilts/comforters out of old suits! (He calls them James Bond quilts.) And my grandmother would hack up any other pieces of clean cloth left to stuff pillows and stuffed animals.