The new year is often a time for a full wardrobe audit, as we sift through overgrown piles to find what we still love and what needs to be pruned from the collection. But once you’ve finished your clean out, what do you do with the clothes you no longer wear? Second-hand or charity shops are a great place to start, but when it comes to those garments that are too worn or damaged for someone else to wear, many of us will simply opt to put them in the general waste bin.
However, just throwing away textiles such as clothes, linen, and shoes is an ultimately wasteful system. Clothes take up to forty years to decompose (and shoes can take over a thousand years!), meaning they contribute to overflowing landfill sites that receive an estimated 6,000 kilograms of textiles and clothing every minute across Australia. Furthermore, a lot of the components that make up our clothes – from natural cotton fibres to the PET in polyester – can actually be recovered using the right processes, but when we leave them to landfill, we lose these valuable resources forever.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of organisations that collect old textiles, diverting them away from landfill and towards the recycling facilities that are equipped to break them down into their useful parts. It’s a great example of circular economy, where instead of moving goods along a linear ‘make-use-dump’ pathway, we circle the materials at the end of this line back into the manufacturing process. In recycling like this, not only do we avoid waste, but we also minimise the amount of new material that we need to extract from natural resources in order to make new clothes and other items, avoiding unnecessary strain on the environment.
So, it turns out that even your old pair of jeans – which may have a few too many holes to be considered fashionable – can be useful again! If you’ve got a pile of boxes from your latest wardrobe purge, or if you’re yet to begin the daunting task and need some motivation, here’s a list of organisations in Australia that will help you get your old clothes recycled.
Upparel got their start selling socks made from recycled textile waste, but when they realised how many people didn’t even know how to get rid of clothes sustainably, they switched their focus to making the process as convenient as possible. All you have to do is box up your unwanted clothes, including the stuff that’s still good enough to wear, and book a collection time. From there, Upparel sends someone to collect your box from your front door before sorting through what they can donate to their charity partners and what can be sent for recycling. Although there is a small fee to participate, your first donation is rewarded with a $25 voucher for Simple Chic.
You can also organise a front-door pick-up of your unwanted clothes with Textile Recyclers, who make collections across the Melbourne and Sydney metro areas. They are the nominated supplier for the University of NSW SMaRT Centre’s Green Ceramic program, where a team led by NSW Australian of the Year 2021 Professor Veena Sahajwalla has designed a process for converting textiles into beautiful kitchen and bathroom tiles.
With a focus on collecting old sports and activewear shoes, Tread Lightly ensures that the rubber, leather, and fibres from these common items don’t go to waste. They have over 400 drop off sites at sports shoe retailers across Australia that allow your old runners to get reused in gym mats, floors, playgrounds, and more.
Popular home textile retailer Sheridan offers a five percent discount to all customers who bring old bed linens and towels from any brand into their boutiques and outlets for recycling. Having collected over 62,000kg of textiles since the program began in February 2019, they reuse many of the fibres they salvage in new Sheridan products, while lesser quality fibres are repurposed in items like insulation.
SCR Group has 1,500 drop-off hubs across Australia in shopping centre carparks, council carparks, and along Melbourne Metro train networks, while also organising pop-up stations at schools to encourage more people to recycle their clothes. They also buy back the clothes that go unsold by their charity partners, ensuring the clothes don’t go to waste and helping to fund their social causes at the same time. SCR Group was a finalist for the Keep Victoria Beautiful Sustainable Cities Award 2021.
To learn more about keeping an environmentally friendly wardrobe, check out our Essential Guide to Sustainable and Ethical T-Shirts. To see more about what’s happening in the world of rubbish, read our article on Amazing Innovations in Waste Management.
Image resource: Ron Lach
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