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Recycling your worn-out clothes

Kid laying on clothes on the floor

The fashion industry has a large environmental footprint. Fast-changing styles and trends can lead to a lot of non-durable clothing being made and bought. At the end of the clothing lifecycle is another issue: clothing can be difficult to recycle. 

In 2018 in the U.S., 14.5 million tons of textiles were landfilled or incinerated. The recycling rate for these materials was only 13 percent. One way to sustainably get rid of clothes in good condition is to donate them to a thrift store. However, only a small percentage of donated clothes get resold to be worn again.  

Why is it so hard to recycle clothes? 

Many modern clothes are made with synthetic materials, which can be difficult to separate during the recycling process. There is low demand in the current recycling market for these materials. Additionally, there are limits to how many times a textile material can be reused, and recycling textiles is often very expensive. 

Clothing and other textiles are not accepted in local household recycling programs because they’re hard to collect and there’s not a significant recycling market for them.  

Private recycling options 

While you can’t discard old clothing in your home recycling bin, some companies do offer take-back and recycling programs. Retold Recycling and Ridwell (check if available in your city), are two examples of companies that offer a subscription-based recycling service for textiles.  

Below are several options to recycle worn out clothing at retail drop-off or mail-in programs. You may even be rewarded with a discount coupon or store credit! Recycled clothing can be made into insulation, cleaning cloths, new clothing and more. 

  • American Eagle – any brand jeans. 

  • Carter’s – any brand of baby and kids clothing. 

  • For Days – any brand clothing, socks, underwear, outerwear, linens shoes and bags. 

  • H&M – any brand clothing. 

  • Hanky Panky – any brand of underwear, bras and socks. 

  • Levi’s – Levi’s brand jeans. 

  • Madewell – any brand jeans. 

  • Parade – any brand of underwear. 

More companies accept worn out clothing – check your favorite brands’ websites to find out more.  

Go beyond recycling 

Even better than recycling is reducing, reusing and repairing clothing. You can help reduce textile waste by choosing to buy fewer items of clothing and investing in pieces that are made from materials that will last longer (not synthetic fabrics). Consider buying used clothing and swapping with friends. Care for the clothes you already have by following the washing instructions on the tags and washing them less. When your clothes eventually wear down, repair them at a free Fix-It Clinic.  


This article is featured in Green Ramsey, an environmental health newsletter from Ramsey County.  
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Posted on Monday, October 2, 2023 - 10:12 a.m.