What do you do with worn out or unusable clothes?
Many of us already know about donating garments that are still in good condition, but what about clothes and accessories that are damaged, unwearable, and unsalable? They’re not just destined for the trash!
Here are programs that actually recycle some of those seemingly “unusable” items we have in our wardrobes:
How to Recycle Clothing
The best thing is first to look into local textile recycling options. Some cities will have textile collection streams or some thrift stores/charity shops do also partner with textile recyclers for worn out and unsalable pieces, but be sure to first check that this is the case so the items aren’t just ending up in the trash.
If you can’t find a local program then I:CO partners can also be an option. I:CO partners with brands to allow them to take back clothing and shoes in their stores (both brick-and-mortar and online).
How to Recycle Underwear
This is the most common one I get asked about: What to do with old underwear? You might think they’re garbage, but they can actually be recycled!
Knickey has a recycling program where they’ll take back their own undies, as well as underwear, bras, socks, and tights from any brands (including men’s & kid’s underwear). They get shredded up and turned into usable products like insulation and industrial textiles. Plus, as a thank-you for recycling, they’ll give you a free pair of organic cotton undies!
Unfortunately this service is currently only available in the U.S., but if you know of any programs in other countries please share them in the comments.
How to Recycle Bras
Want to know where to donate bras? If you have new or gently worn bras and lingerie you can send them to The Bra Recyclers, who collect and distribute them to those in need.
Wondering what to do with old bras? Worn-out bras can be sent to Knickey’s program explained above.
How to Recycle Tights
These are unfortunately something that gets worn through quite fast and are rarely in good condition for secondhand use. For those of you living in the U.S., the Knickey recycling program is likely your best option.
For people from any country, Swedish Stockings has a recycling program that will accept synthetic pantyhose from any brand. The old tights get turned into industrial molded tanks, or they even have a limited collaboration where chic, marble-looking tables are made from old tights! As a thank you, you’ll also get 10% off your next order of sustainable hosiery. However, it can be expensive to ship pantyhose to Sweden and they don’t offer a pre-paid shipping label.
If you don’t want to go the recycling route, you can get creative and find uses for old pantyhose — check out this Apartment Therapy post for suggestions!
How to Recycle Shoes
First, don’t forget about cobblers and shoe repair! If a heel or sole is worn down, you can often easily get them repaired for longer wear.
If they’re beyond repair, then where can you recycle shoes? TerraCycle offers a shoe collection and recycling box, but it is quite expensive — maybe something to try getting your workplace to invest in? For a free option, many I:CO partners do accept shoes, but make sure you double check.
Any brand of athletic sneakers can be dropped off at Nike stores for recycling, after which they are turned into things like gym floors, carpet underlays, or used in the outsoles of new shoes.
Side note: Zkano recycles socks from any brand (no incentives, you just mail them in to their Alabama, U.S. address).
How to Recycle Purses & Bags
What should you do with old purses? Like with shoes, many parts of purses can be repaired, so look into that first.
For this one I unfortunately couldn’t find any programs that accept worn out purses and bags. But if they are made from fabric you can sometimes remove any hardware and recycle them through textile recycling channels. For leather/vegan leathers the best options I’ve found so far is upcycling.
Bonus: How to Recycle Contact Lenses
Not clothing, but I wanted to also share this one because it’s something most people don’t know about. In Canada and the U.S. you can recycle any brand of contact lenses at participating eye care professionals (Canada info; U.S. info) through a partnership with Bausch + Lomb and TerraCycle.
And whatever you do, don’t wash contact lenses down the drain or flush them in your toilet!
Through the Brand (Take Back)
Some slow fashion brands also have take-back recycling programs for their own clothes and products. This is good to make note of when purchasing an item and also great to support brands with circularity initiatives!
You can find brands with these types of programs in my circular fashion brand roundup.
If you know of other recycling programs for old clothes and accessories, or ones specific to your country, please share them in the comments!
I’ll continue to update this post as I find more options and also as brands start more recycling programs (an exciting trend I think we’ll see more of!). 🙂
Updated April 5, 2022