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Where to recycle your old clothing if it’s not quite right for donating

WORDS BY EMILY HOLGATE

“I’m talking about the holey, ripped and torn items, the old undies, or the clothes permanently stained with sauce.”

I hate to admit it, but at the back of my linen closet is a number of old boxes and bags filled with clothes I no longer wear. No, I’m not a hoarder (I don’t think) –  every year I go through my clothes and figure out which ones I no longer wear and divide them up into two piles: the selling pile and the donating pile. 

The nicer options which simply aren’t my style anymore are those that I sell, while the less-flashy or older items go in the donate pile. But I always find myself in a dilemma when faced with those pieces which probably aren’t even worthy of the donation bin. I’m talking about the holey, ripped and torn items, the old undies, or the clothes permanently stained with sauce (I’m messy, okay). 


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I fully believe in the sentiment of making clothes last, whether that’s buying less, investing in a capsule wardrobe, purchasing higher quality threads, or when it’s time to part ways, giving your clothes a second life. So, I started doing some research on where I can recycle my old, tattered clothing if it’s just not quite right for donating. Here’s what I found.

Upparel

This handy organisation is on a mission to reduce the number of materials that end up in landfill each year. Upparel is its name and upcycling is its game. Not only can you shop upcycled clothes and furniture on the site, but you can also organise for the Upparel team to pick up a box of your old clothes for as little as $25 (depending on the box weight). 

The majority of the items Upparel receives are donated to charities like Save the Children and Sacred Heart Mission, but the small number of clothes that aren’t donated are assessed and repurposed by the team. This includes both upcycling items into new pieces and recycling tattered fabric into new materials. 

Facebook

A great way to ensure your rags go to good use is by reaching out to your local community. If you’re in a community Facebook group like a Good Karma Network, try offering your garments for free or in exchange for a small gesture. You’d be surprised at how many people would be happy to take them off your hands!  

Animal shelters

Most animal shelters welcome donations, including things like shirts, fabric scraps and even old towels and blankets. All of these can be used as bedding for animals, or made into pet toys – just give your local shelter a buzz to ask. PSA: newspaper, pet supplies and toilet paper are other commonly accepted donations.

Rags

Grab a pair of scissors and turn your old garments into scraps or rags for cleaning – a lot of fabrics are perfect for things like dusting and wiping. Parts of old or stained shirts and towels can even be cut and (if you’re handy with a sewing kit) made into cotton rounds used for skincare or taking off makeup. You could also see if a local mechanic or a keen seamsperson you know could make use of your materials, and offer them a bag of rags.

Local donation bins

Some organisations like Vinnies have donation-bin programs where you can drop off unwearable clothing for them to repurpose. This includes making rags to donate to industries like boating, motor, hospitality, car washes, stonemasons and cabinet makers. Other charities, such as Red Nose, have websites where you book a collection from your home at no extra cost. 

Compost

Moving forward, it’s important to make more conscious decisions about how much and what type of clothing you’re purchasing. This includes shopping for timeless pieces you’ll love for years, which are made to endure hundreds of wears.

There are also a number of sustainable fashion labels making clothes from biodegradable materials like bamboo, organic cotton or hemp for you to compost. But certain care needs to be taken when composting clothes, such as removing non-compostable materials like buttons and ribbons. You can find out more about how to compost your clothing here.

For advice on how to take care of your clothes so they last, try this.

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