In many parts of the world, second-hand or “vintage“ clothing is a style unto itself. Besides the fashion factor, recycling unwanted clothes has obvious benefits for the environment and there are a wide variety of uses for secondhand garments.
One of the oldest forms of charity, the act of giving away or donating unwanted clothes to the poor, occurs in every corner of the earth, proving that this ancient tradition is still a vital necessity today. These days, unwanted clothes are getting new life in all sorts of forms, not just as charity for the poor.
Reasons to recycle
Clothes for the poor. Donations provide clothes for people unable to purchase their own.
Reduces the amount of pesticides used in cotton farming. Around 150g of pesticides are used to make one cotton tshirt.
Reduces water consumption. The manufacturing of both rayon and polyester require large volumes of water as does dyeing clothes.
Reduces pollutant emissions. The manufacturing of polyester (made from petroleum) releases acidic gases and volatile organic compounds into the air while making nylon produces the highly toxic nitrous oxide, which has a carbon footprint 310 times stronger than carbon dioxide.
According to a 2010 study, recycling 1kg of clothing saves about 4kg of CO2 emissions. The insightful video below from Online MBA details the business of fast fashion, led by retail behemoths such as H&M and Zara, and has some key statistics about the environmental harm of this industry:
What you can recycle
You can recycle almost anything. Items such as used underwear, sole-less shoes and expired medications are generally not accepted for hygiene and health reasons.
Be well prepared
It may sound like a given but be sure to donate your old clothes in the most presentable condition possible. Clothes should be washed and packed carefully.
Given that there is a perceived stigma attached to wearing hand-me-down items of clothing, and that some people will not wear used clothing as a matter of pride, it is worth asking questions of any organisation you donate clothes to, ensuring that anything provided arrives at the recipients in the same state it was donated in and that clothes are not going to waste.
The DIY approach
Old clothes may no longer be wearable in their current state but that doesn’t mean they can’t be given new life in some other form. From creating bags out of jeans to making bed linen out of cotton shirts, the do-it-yourself method of recycling clothing is a popular choice for anyone who can work their way around a sewing machine and there is a seemingly endless wealth of information online regarding recycling cloth or unwanted clothes.
Flea markets in larger areas are a veritable treasure trove of recycled clothing. It may take some digging, but the fashion conscious will certainly relish coming across truly one-off pieces while the environmentally aware will appreciate that this is one of the most sustainable ways to shop.