With 6,000kg of clothing and textiles discarded every 10 minutes in Australia alone, there’s a huge potential for us to reduce our waste when it comes to our wardrobes. Last week I talked about how we can make better wardrobe purchases. This week I’m going to talk about the other end of the spectrum: what do to with the clothing we no longer need or want, without sending it to landfill.
1. Donate or Sell Clothes You Don’t Wear
Take it from someone who let unworn clothing sit in her wardrobe for years: if you don’t wear it, donate it. If it was expensive and you feel guilty about wasting your money, sell it to alleviate some of the guilt.
Unworn clothing is not serving any purpose languishing in the back of the wardrobe.
Things sitting unworn deteriorate, get moth eaten and are a waste of resources. Whilst it’s sitting there someone else could be wearing it and loving it. Give them the chance to do so, and make the best use of the time, energy and resources that went into creating that item.
2. Learn Simple Clothing Fixes
I don’t know how to sew particularly well or use a sewing machine competently, but I have mastered a couple of basics.
Firstly, I do know how to darn. It’s simple, therapeutic and has saved many a jumper and sock of mine from landfill.
Natural fibres do have a tendency to develop holes, so knowing how to stitch them back up again is helpful to extend the life of things.
I’m not going to give a tutorial here because I’m no expert, but the principle is making a little cross-weave of thread across the hole. Sew strands up and down first, and then from left to right weaving under and over the other strands. (PS my darning mushroom is an orange. Does the job.)
Similarly, I know how to stitch a button or popper back on. Another very simple thing to do. I’ve purchased shirts from the charity shop that have likely been donated because a button was missing. An easy fix. I’ve also had buttons come off in action.
If I lose the button and there’s no spare, I move a button from the pocket or the very top (which I don’t use) to replace the spot where I need the button.
I purchased this shirt from the charity shop which had obviously been donated because one of the poppers was deformed. I simply stitched a new one on, and I had an almost new shirt.
If you’re a total newbie and/or the idea of attempting a mend on your own stresses you out, Repair Cafes and other community sewing groups exist. Here you can find sewing repair tutorials, where you can learn to fix your stuff for free (or low cost) with the help of someone who actually knows what they are doing.
3. Pay a Professional to Fix Your Clothing
If you don’t know how to fix something, and have no inclination to learn, find someone who does. My boots have fallen to pieces more times than I care to count (actually, I think they’ve been repaired 4 times).
I have no idea how to fix shoes, but luckily for me there is an awesome shoe repair service at the local shopping centre.
Over the years my boots have needed resoling, restitching, reheeling, reglueing, a toecap put in and a zipper replaced. But every time they come back good as new, and for much less than the cost of a new pair of boots.
I’ve also used a mending service to fix buttons back onto jeans (I think they need a special tool: it definitely isn’t a sewing job).
4. Repurpose Fabric
There’s a whole step between stopping wearing clothing, and tossing it out. Repurposing.
Clothing rarely disintegrates entirely; it tends to wear in certain spots. A pair of jeans might wear through at the bum, crotch and knees but the legs are often fine. A dress might wear out at the armpits or sleeves but the body is fine.
This is literally the most lazy repurpose in the world – I used the denim from a jeans leg to make an iPad case. I shuffled the iPad down the leg until it fit, then cut the leg just below and stitched the two sides together to make a case. It might look lame, but that was in 2014, and I still have that case. It does the job.
If the material is good quality or hard-wearing, it may be possible to donate to someone crafty to repurpose, or for projects for kids. Whether it’s for recreating into new altered clothing, making hankies, Boomerang bags, fabric bunting, cushion covers or something more creative, people can make good use of old clothing.
Buy Nothing groups are a good place to make inquiries, and Gumtree is a good option to place a free listing.
5. Use Old Natural Fibre Clothing As Rags
When my clothing from natural fibres is life expired, I chop it up to use as cleaning cloths – for the kitchen first and then the bathroom. They can go through the washing machine a few times, before ending up in the compost bin. Zero waste.
I’ve tried this with synthetic fibres but it doesn’t work nearly so well as plastic doesn’t absorb water. Now I stick to only natural ones.
6. Compost Natural Fibres
If your clothing is completely, utterly worn out, and is made entirely of natural fibres, you can compost it or put in a worm farm. If your clothing is part natural fibres, you can put in a worm farm, and the worms will eat the natural part, leaving the synthetic part.
If you don’t have access to textile recycling (or you don’t trust your textile recycling) consider composting your old clothing.
I’m not sure what the etiquette is with donating old underwear for recycling, so I pop in the worm farm. I get left with an elastane shell, and the cotton is recycled into soil. I also use old clothing as a cover for the worm farm. Eventually it breaks down.
7. Donating Clothing to Charity Shops as Rags
Not all charity shops offer this service, but some do – they will take clothing specifically for use as rags. It’s best to call first to find out if this is the case, and they will be able to tell you what they want and what they don’t.
If this is an option for you, be sure to label your donation clearly as “Rags”. This saves someone rummaging through it all and coming to the same conclusion.
8. Donate Worn Synthetic Clothes for Recycling
Worn clothing can be donated for recycling. Increasingly clothing companies and department stores will take back their own brand of clothing for recycling, but a few companies (including Levi Strauss in the US, and H & M worldwide) will take back any brand of clothing.
I take any won out synthetic clothing I have to H&M, because textile recycling is hard to find on Perth (and I want H&M to shoulder some of the responsibility for the excessive textiles problem they have helped create). If you’re lucky, you may have a council collection service or drop-off facility.
Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you do with old unwanted textiles? If you’re creative, how do you repurpose old fabric? Are there any ideas I’ve missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!