Textile Recycling 101: How to Recycle and Repurpose Your Worn-Out Clothes

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"We're all familiar with recycling paper, cardboard, and glass, but what about fabrics? Good news: if you've worn it, you can recycle it!"

We’ve all put on a pair of socks only to realize there’s a big hole in the heel. Maybe your favorite pair of jeans start to get suspiciously thin around the thigh area. It’s impossible to say where the wear and tear came from, but once they appear, we instinctively want to replace the ripped piece of clothing.

Sure, it’s easy to throw tattered clothing in the trash that’s too worn-out to donate. But, after doing so, there’s only one final destination: the landfill. The solution? Recycle textiles instead of tossing them out.

Why Textile Recycling Is Important

textile recycling

While the majority of textiles are recyclable, the Council for Textile Recycling found 85% still ends up in landfills and only 15% are recycled each year. It also found that the average American throws out 70 pounds of fabric per year, and the amount of textile waste is increasing.

At first glance, it’s easy to see why so much clothing ends up in the landfill. Between confusing greenwashing labels and fast fashion that basically falls apart after a year, it’s tough to say what’s recyclable and what’s garbage. But great news: Both natural and synthetic materials can be recycled and kept out of landfills.

There’s a good chance there’s a textile recycling program nearby that you don’t know about. And depending on the brand, the company may even have its own in-depth corporate textile recycling program. Here’s everything you need to know in order to go about textile recycling properly.

Where to Recycle Textiles

textile recycling
Photo: American Recyclers

First, if your item isn’t super-worn out, you may be able to salvage some scraps for a crafty DIY project. Upcycling is a great way to learn a new skill and save money. For instance, soft shirts can be upcycled into reusable makeup remover wipes, cleaning rags, coasters, and beyond. If your clothing only has a minor tear, you can also try mending it.

If you aren’t the sewing type, don’t worry. Even the most worn-out clothing (yes, socks and underwear included!) can be recycled. Unlike paper and plastics, there aren’t always curbside pick-up options for textiles. Thankfully, there are plenty of in-person options that allow you to drop off your garments.

A quick Google search can tell you exactly what the options are for your area, and there are a few companies that specify in textile recycling on a large scale.

1. Goodwill

Goodwill is one of America’s largest recyclers. Not only can you donate to the thrift store for reselling, but you can also drop off your worn-out fabrics for recycling. According to Goodwill’s sustainability agreement, the company works with local agencies to repurpose and recycle all sorts of materials.

2. American Recyclers

American Recyclers has thousands of recycling bins all over the country. And they don’t just take clothing: You can also donate belts, shoes, undergarments, towels, rags, stuffed toys, curtains, and more. Plus, all donations are tax-deductible. Find a bin near you here.

3. TerraCycle

TerraCycle works internationally to provide as many people with recycling options as possible. By signing up online, they’ll send you a box in the mail. Fill it with your old clothes and easily ship it back to TerraCycle for recycling.

4. Your Favorite Brands

You can also check out your favorite brands to see how they’re working to recycle old clothes. For example, Patagonia has a recycling program on its website for you to send back your damaged clothing.

What Happens After Recycling Textiles

blue green and brown textile

Similar to recycling plastic or metal, fabric recycling generally involves bringing the textile back to its original form (yarn or thread) in order to make it into something new. American Recyclers documents the process on its website.

First, the fabric is sorted by color and type, including synthetic materials like polyester and rayon. Then, the material gets stripped down to a raw fiber. The fibers might be dyed and spun into yarn to be used for new clothes. Sometimes, the fabrics won’t turn into new clothing. Instead, they may be used for carpeting or mattress stuffing.

No matter how you go about textile recycling, by taking the time to recycle your worn-out clothing instead of throwing it away, you’re doing your part to make the world a better place.


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We're all familiar with recycling paper, cardboard, and glass, but what about fabrics? Good news: if you've worn it, you can recycle it!

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