If you have clothing you no longer need, it might feel convenient to throw it away, but this is bad for the environment.
The U.K. is the largest textile waste producer in the whole of Europe as it produces approximately 206,456 tonnes of textile waste annually.
From the three kilos of textile waste that every person in the U.K. produces every year, only 0.3 kilos are recycled.
What’s the problem with throwing clothes in the garbage?
It can take more than 200 years for the clothing to decompose in landfills, which also produces greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals.
These end up seeping into the soil and groundwater, polluting the environment.
Let’s explore why you should avoid throwing your unwanted clothes away and better ways in which to deal with them.
Other Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Throw Clothing In The Trash
If you have old clothing, you might think you can go ahead and recycle them by putting them out with your regular household’s recycled goods.
But this is something to avoid. It’s problematic for various reasons. When clothing is put through the recycling facility’s machinery, it can clog it up.
This also causes the employees at the facility to have to keep an eye out for any clothing items, which adds to the work they have to do. If you put items in the recycling bin that can’t be recycled, then you’re throwing a spanner into the recycling process.
Why Are Clothes Difficult To Recycle?
Clothing items are some of the most difficult items to recycle, especially since you can’t put them in the household recycling bin like lots of other items.
But why is clothing so problematic?
It comes down to the fact that clothing is made up of many different fibres and accessories, so you might find that your clothing contains natural yarns, synthetic fabrics, and even metal and plastic.
Even recycling your sustainable items of clothing can prove problematic. Say, for instance, that you have a t-shirt that’s made of cotton.
You might think this can easily be recycled, but not so fast. It might have lots of other elements that can’t be recycled, such as labels, zippers, and even threads that are made from synthetic materials.
There’s another problem.
While you might think that all the clothing sent to recycling facilities will be broken down and turned into new clothing items, this isn’t usually the case. It depends on the type of material the clothing is made out of.
For example, blends can be shredded and pulled so that they can become shorter-length fibres. These fibres are of a lower quality, though, which results in them being used for other purposes, such as thermal insulation, instead of clothes.
When it comes to large batches of one type of fibre, such as nylon or polyester, recycling facilities will make use of chemical fibre recycling to deal with them.
This involves ways of breaking down the fabric so that it can be reused, such as by dissolving the fabric into a solvent to make a new fibre compound.
But, the problem with it is that it requires lots of processes and chemicals which makes the recycled fabric expensive. It’s also worth mentioning that chemical fibre recycling is quite fussy as only certain types of fabric can be put through its process.
There are clearly many limitations when it comes to the recycling of clothing, which is why it’s up to consumers to try to find other ways of dealing with their clothing instead of sending them to recycling facilities.
So, How Should You Recycle Your Clothes?
The next time you have some clothing items you no longer want, aim to do one of these things with them instead of throwing them out.
- Consult your council to see if they collect textiles or clothing to be recycled responsibly. You can then drop off the clothing at various recycling points around your town or city.
- Donate clothing to local charities. There are many charities that can benefit from your old clothing which you don’t want to wear. Check the Charity Retail Association website to find a charity that will accept your clothing.
- Donate to an op-shop. These stores sell second-hand items that are donated by people in the community. They get sold for a lot less than their original prices to benefit others.
- Consider taking your clothing back to retail stores. Some retailers will have banks in-store in which you can bring your clothing. This is a great way to drop off clothing just before you purchase new items to prevent you from accumulating too many pieces that you later need to get rid of or recycle.
How To Reduce Your Clothing Before Recycling It
Recycling your old clothing in a responsible way is not the only thing you should try to achieve moving forward.
When it comes to recycling clothing, it’s worth going back to the start of the process when you buy the clothes in the first place.
In other words, reducing how much you buy, will help you at a later stage because you’ll have less to eliminate from your wardrobe – and less to worry about how to recycle.
So, with that in mind, here are some tips to bear in mind before making your next purchase.
- Choose high-quality clothing. If you purchase clothing that’s well made, it will last you longer than a season or two. You can tell that a piece of clothing is made with quality in mind by holding it up to the light. The thicker it is and the less you can see through the material, the better quality it has. You should also check the stitches, buttons, and seams. If these are missed, loose, or not done properly, those are all signs that the clothing item lacks quality, so it won’t last a very long time.
- Focus on personal style instead of trends. While it’s tempting to purchase clothing that’s in fashion, trends come and go – and leave you with a pile of unwanted clothing. When buying clothing, focus on whether or not the items fit in with your personal style as this ensures the items will last longer and always make you look good.
- Reuse as much as you can. If you no longer wish to wear a pair of trousers or shirt, consider giving it to a loved one who might like it. You could even organise your own clothes swap with friends and family members. One person’s trash could very well be another person’s treasure!
- Alternatively, upcycle the item. An old, worn t-shirt could be cut up into strips and used as cleaning cloths. Alternatively, you could upcycle the items so they have new purposes, such as a skirt that becomes a cushion cover or a pair of jeans that can be used to make a bag or wallet. If you have some DIY creativity in your blood, upcycling clothing is a fantastic way to reuse old items.
- Repair your clothes. If you have clothing that requires a bit of fixing, such as if you need to sew up a tear or replace buttons, do these yourself to save money and prevent wasting perfectly good clothing.
- Wear your clothing more. It’s easy to forget about some clothing items you have in your wardrobe, as we usually tend to reach for the same clothes. Take a look through your wardrobe – there could be pieces that you own which you’ve forgotten about! Try to get into the habit of keeping track of your clothing and which items you’ve worn so that you wear those that you tend to neglect.
- Take care of your clothes. If you look after your clothing, it will last longer and prevent you from having to dispose of it. Some clothing-maintenance tips include only washing your clothing when necessary, using a colder wash in the washing machine, and air-drying your clothes.
Can You Put Clothing Into The Compost?
Wouldn’t it be great if you could throw old, worn clothing into the compost and let it decompose naturally?
This is sometimes possible, but it’s important to know what types of clothing materials you can and can’t compost, as well as ensure you compost your clothing properly.
Here are tips to bear in mind.
- Clothing that’s made out of natural fibres will be able to decompose in compost, and these include silk, hemp, wool, and cotton.
- To help them break down easier, you should cut natural fabrics into smaller pieces. It’s good to bear in mind that some natural materials actually contain synthetic items, such as thread, that won’t break down. Therefore, it’s good to cut these away.
- You shouldn’t put synthetic fabrics into your compost, such as acrylic, polyester, and nylon. These won’t be able to decompose, which means they’ll just clog up your compost.
- Never compost stained clothing. You need to be careful to avoid dangerous substances from entering the compost heap, such as paint.
- If you want to use the compost to grow vegetables in your garden, you will need to ensure that your natural fibres haven’t been dry cleaned a lot or have heavy prints and dyes on them. This is to prevent chemical contamination.
- Avoid composting clothing that has designs that are placed on the fabric instead of being part of it. This is a sign that the clothing contains PVC ink, which won’t break down.
- Never throw out a lot of clothing at once. You want the natural clothing items to break down properly, so you should never put too many items into your compost at the same time.
Is It Worth Buying Sustainable Clothing?
We’re always told to purchase sustainable clothing because it’s better for the planet, but how does it achieve this goal?
And, should we all be purchasing more sustainable clothing in an effort to reduce and recycle?
Sustainable clothing brands reduce negative impacts on the environment.
You’ll find that many sustainable clothing companies will use less water, prevent unethical disposal methods, use recycled materials in their packaging, and ensure fair and ethical practices for people working for them.
Based on the above, there are clearly many good reasons why you should be buying sustainable clothing.
Choosing this clothing also increases the chance that it will last for a longer period of time, therefore reducing how many items of clothing you throw out.
However, when it comes to recycling, as we’ve seen earlier in this article, even sustainable clothing can sometimes be problematic.
Therefore, it’s always good to follow the rule that you should try to find other ways to recycle (or upcycle) your clothing yourself.
How much new fashion gets purchased in Britain annually?
The quantity of new fashion that’s bought in the U.K. every year is shocking – 1.72 million tonnes!
How much clothing does the average person in Britain purchase per month?
Every month, the average person living in Britain will buy 4.1 new items.
If you have some unwanted pieces of clothing you no longer want to wear, think before throwing them out into the garbage.
If you do that, you’re just guaranteeing that your unwanted clothing items will go to the landfill, where they won’t decompose easily and pollute the environment.
There are much better things you can do with the clothing you no longer want to wear, as we’ve outlined in this article.
These include recycling it, donating it to charities, upcycling it into new items, or – in some cases – throwing sustainable pieces of clothing into your compost!