If your closet is anything like mine, it’s full of things you should probably toss.
I’ve got embarrassing shirts that no longer fit, socks with gaping holes (which I still wear), and bulky sweatpants that never see the light of day (and should never leave my apartment).
This week, Fast Company brought up the issue of clothing in our garbage. It’s estimated over 10 million tons of textiles were sent to landfills in 2015 and just 14.2% of all shoes and clothes were recycled that year, according to the EPA.
Why are we so terrible at recycling our t-shirts and jeans? For one, not all recycling facilities accept clothing. Inevitably, we donate those clothes to stores like Goodwill or Salvation Army, which if unsold, end up in the trash anyway (which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t donate them, just that not everything you give will find a home).
Clothing often can’t be recycled back into clothing either. Instead, it’s down-cycled into products like rags or used in insulation (and for those personally attached to their clothing, knowing your wedding dress might be used as a cleaning rag would be a mighty hurdle to jump).
But how can we get rid of our used clothing? Well, turns out, there are a number of solutions to your closet problem if your recycling facility doesn’t accept textiles.
Find a drop-off location
Using Earth911’s locator, you can easily find a nearby facility that will accept your used clothes for recycling. A number of retailers, too, participate in their own clothing recycling programs. Patagonia will accept any of its clothing to be recycled and both the North Face and H&Mwill accept clothing from any brand—just place them in collection bins at any store. Have unwearable jeans lying around? You can bring them to any J. Crew or Madewell store (or mail them in) in exchange for $20 off a new pair.
Bring your unwanted shoes to any Nike or Converse store and drop them off in a collection bin. They’ll recycle them into everything from footwear to actual running tracks and playgrounds. Shoe brand Asics will also accept both unwanted clothing and shoes.
Mail them to a recycler
Have a ton of old clothing and not sure what to do? Make it easy on yourself and mail them all at once by using TerraCycle. You can purchase a box on its website for your things and they will recycle everything on your behalf.
In partnership with Bausch, TerraCycle will even accept all of your contact lenses for free. You’ll have to keep them in a small cardboard box (like a used contact lens hoarder) and you can print the free shipping label on Bausch’s website. They’ll be melted into plastic to make other recyclable products.
Donate them for reuse
Though it’s not exactly recycling, reuse is just as important when it comes to being green. VSP will let you send in any old glasses to be donated to those who don’t have access to eyewear.
If you want to make a social impact, do an online search for a local consignment, thrift, or charity store where you can donate unwanted, clean clothing (ask an employee where your clothing goes if it doesn’t end up getting purchased). If there’s a huge stain on a shirt, however, you’ll have significantly better luck recycling it instead of donating it. Your shirt with holes may very well end up cleaning a car’s windshield one day.