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Clothing recycling: How to recycle old clothing?

clothing recycling

Fast fashion, when clothing brands renew their collections on a more frequent basis, encourages us to fill our cupboards with clothes that we never use, or that we use very rarely, and that we then get rid of. In addition to questioning our clothing buying habits, recycling appears to be an answer to counteract the millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases emitted by the textile industry each year.


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Textile recycling and the environment

Recycling clothing is necessary to combat global warming. By giving clothing a second life, the environmental impact of textiles is greatly reduced.

What is recycling?Recycling is the process of recovering scrap or waste and reprocessing the material into useful products. It avoids the waste of natural resources and limits contamination and CO2 emissions.

textile recycling

The first step to prevent the generation of textile and clothes waste is to make responsible choices:

  • Choose good materials, such as linen, which require less water and fertilizers to grow, or organic cotton;
  • Acquire garments made from recycled fibres;
  • Buy second-hand clothes in second-hand stores on the high street or online and save money at the same time;
  • Choose brands committed to the environment;
  • Trust the labels that facilitate the recognition of certain characteristics of a product, such as the guarantee of origin.
  • Facts about clothes recycling in the UK
  • Britons send 700,000 tonnes of clothing to recycling centres, textile banks, clothes collections and to charity each year. That’s enough to fill almost 460 Olympic-size swimming pools;
  • As well as reducing carbon, water and waste footprints, if Brits collectively made an effort to better supply, use and dispose of clothing, we could save a total of £3 billion per year;
  • 350,000 tonnes of used clothes but still in good enough condition to wear ends up in landfill in the UK every year. That’s around £140 million worth of clothes!

Source:Clothes Aid UK.

The life cycle of clothing

Knowing the life cycle of clothing is one way to understand the impact of your carbon footprint. All stages of this life cycle have an impact on the environment:

  1. The production of raw materials: clothes are produced from raw materials such as polyester, cotton, silk or wool. Some of them are sourced from non-renewable resources, such as oil, to produce synthetic fibers, while others come from plant or animal materials and therefore require a lot of water and chemicals.
  2. The manufacture of the clothes: due to the substances it contains, the dye is toxic not only for the workers who make the clothes, but also for the consumers and the aquatic ecosystem that it pollutes.
  3. Transportation of clothing: clothes are normally manufactured in developing countries, where production costs and wages are lower, and are transported to the UK and the rest of Europe by air or sea. However, the airplane is the most polluting means of transport.
  4. The maintenance of clothes: there is an excessive use of water when washing clothes. In addition, a large number of contaminating microparticles are released.
  5. Recycling clothes: this is a crucial step. Sorting your wardrobe and recycling certain used clothes helps to extend the useful life of clothes, thus avoiding unnecessary steps such as the production of raw materials, the manufacture of products or even transportation.
clean ocean

Taking care of your clothes not only keeps them longer, but also saves money and limits your impact on the environment.

  • Wash less and choose detergents with an eco-label so as not to limit the emission of toxic substances into the oceans;
  • Save water and energy by washing clothes at only 30°C and avoiding the use of the dryer;
  • Repair your clothes and give them a second life.

What to do with old clothes in the UK?

There are many ways to recycle your used and old clothes in the UK. From clothes banks, taking them to stores such as H&M or Marks and Spencer, giving them to a charity store, you have many options. In this section we’ll look more in detail at the range of choices you have to recycle your clothes.

Shoe recyclingRecycling old or unwanted shoes works in a similar to used clothes. Most charities will accept shoe donations and you can also search for 'shoe recycling near me' to find your nearest shoe bank. Remember to tie them together as they can get easily separated - making it more difficult for organisations to re-use or re-sell them.

Recycle clothes on the high street

Retail giant H&M first introduced its garment recycling service in 2013. Every item donated is either recycled, donated or re-worn. If you take a bag of clothes in-store as part of the H&M clothes recycling scheme, you can get a discount on your next purchase.

Marks and Spencer have also had a M&S clothes recycling scheme running for a few years now after announcing a collaboration with the Oxfam charity. So far, more than 20 million items of clothing have been donated. In addition to offering customers an opportunity to recycle old clothes, the retailer also made a commitment to have at least 25% of M&S clothing and home products made using at least 25% reused or recycled material by 2025.

Across the country, many businesses and retailers provide clothes bins for customers to take their used and unwanted clothes. Supermarket giants such as Sainsbury’s, Asda and Tesco offer clothes recycling banks in many of their stores.

There are many charities in the UK that accept clothes donations such as Oxfam, Cancer Research, and the British Heart Foundation. To find out the nearest charity shop to where you live, you can visit sites such as Charity Retail and look by town or postcode.

The Salvation Army is one of the world’s oldest charity organisations whose work covers many issues of social injustices such as homelessness, poverty, addiction and caring for older people. Across the UK there are more than 8,000 Salvation Army clothes banks where you can deposit any clothes or textile recycling. Clothes are then either re-sold, allowing the organisation to keep on with its work, or donated to causes in the UK and overseas.

Donate clothes to homeless near me.Homelesses is a social issue that affects around 320,000 people in every part of the UK. Thankfully, there are a number of charities dedicated to supporting homeless people. You can play your part and donate clothes to organisations such as Shelter, the People’s Postcode Lottery, or Centrepoint.

Clothes recycling collection by your local council

Every local council in the UK provides services for clothes recycling. In every town and city across the country, councils provide clothes banks and shoe banks. To find out where your nearest one is, either get in touch with your local council or search online for ‘clothing recycling bins near me’. Councils don’t usually include clothes as part of their kerbside collections, if you get in touch with them, they will provide you with marked plastic bags to put your used clothes into and will collect them.

Can you put clothes in the recycling bin?You should not put used clothes in your household recycling bin. Instead, contact your local council or take them to your nearest waste recycling centre.

Upcycle used clothes

Another option is to reuse and customise used clothes and textiles: use them as a base for different garments, modify them, etc.

  • Using the material in another way, for example, wearing a men's shirt as a dress, putting it on with stockings and a belt;
  • Add new details to used garments;
  • Removing parts of clothing to turn a jacket into a vest, for example, or long pants into shorts;
  • Dyeing clothes.

Clothes recycling for cash

As well as the many options to donate clothes to charity or put them in clothes recycling bins, you can also recycle clothes for cash. There are a number of organisations, such as Cash for Clothes, that pay a small price per kilo of clothes or shoes. Remember, they normally ask that items are clean and dry, ready to be reused. The clothes are normally re-sold, either in the UK or in developing countries.

  • Discover all our other guides on recycling:
  • Aluminium recycling: How and why to recycle it?;
  • Cardboard recycling;
  • Composting;
  • Glass recycling;
  • Plastic recycling: Your guide on what plastics can be recycled;
  • Paper recycling;
  • Tyre recycling: Where to dispose of them?.
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