What you should really be doing with the clothes that seriously cannot be worn anymore.
Author - Olivia Young
We've all seen the photos of textiles piled into mini Himalayan peaks, left to biodegrade for decades if not centuries. The don'ts of being a responsible clothes-owner are clear — don't buy anything you know will end up in a landfill — but when you're faced with a top so tattered that it simply cannot be worn again, what exactly are you supposed to do with it?
Prior to 2019, garments that were too tattered to sell in secondhand shops were shipped (by charities or the shops themselves) to third-world countries. A well-intentioned act in theory, the influx of recycled clothes put many local textile manufacturers out of business, prompting the East African Community (EAC) to ban imported used clothing from countries like Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, effective last year. Thus, in order to cut down on the reported 336,000 tonnes of clothing that are thrown away in the UK every year, you might just have to get creative. Here are a few ideas.
Recycle them via designated textile recycling programs
The same as you'd recycle plastic and paper, you can recycle old clothes, too. Even some of the charities whose donation boxes sit in the car park of your local supermarket will dispose of unwearable items responsibly. Oxfam was one of the first to offer a service like this back in the '70s and now, according to its website, the charity doesn't send a single item to the landfill. You may have to do a bit of research to find out whether your preferred charity has followed suit. Enter your postcode into the database Recycle Now to find recycling centres near you.
Craft them into something beautiful
Discover a new hobby while simultaneously breathing life back into an old piece of clothing, why don't you? Even if the patchwork aesthetic is a little too eccentric for your style, you can still refashion garments using the most basic of sewing skills. A quick sift through Pinterest and you'll be embroidering bouquets over your coffee stains in no time.
Turn them into animal beds and blankets
When Australia was being ravaged by wildfires in 2019, rescue missions called on the crafters of the world to whip up beds and blankets for animals in need. If you happen to know your way around a sewing machine (and if you don't, it's a nifty skill to learn), then you can pretty easily turn cotton scarves, shawls, and your bigger items of clothing into a bed to donate to your local dog shelter.
Up-cycle them into household rags
If you're absolutely, 100-percent certain that a garment cannot be worn again (how could you be so certain?), then the least you could do is turn it into rags. Save old cotton t-shirts for the kind of dusting you certainly don't want your store-bought clothes to see.
Compost them at home
No need to stop the composting at banana peels and onion skins when you can throw your holey socks in there just the same. So long as a garment isn't blended with synthetic fibers (polyester, spandex, nylon) and you remove all tags, buttons, and zippers beforehand, you can rip them up into small pieces and put them right into the compost. A cotton shirt would take about six months to decompose. Wool socks, on the other hand, can take up to five years.