How to Recycle and Get Rid of Clothes (Responsibly)
Major lifestyle changes such as minimalism and low/zero waste living have started becoming mainstream. These two lifestyles focus around the basis of ‘reducing’, which is great! That being said, there doesn’t seem to be as much information readily available about how to responsibly dispose of items that you no longer want/need. This is true especially in the minimalism movement.
Taking this one step further (and getting more specific), a question I see asked often in the minimalism and low/zero waste communities is:
“How do I get rid of/recycle clothing and/or textiles?”
You’ve probably heard of fast fashion. If not, here is the definition from the dictonary:
“Inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.”
Inexpensive being the key word here- usually at the expense of people making the clothes (ex. Low pay, unsafe environments), and the planet (unsustainable use of resources, pollution, etc).
According to one source:
“New clothes bought in the UK produce more carbon emissions per minute than driving a car around the world six times, and it’s believed that more than two tonnes of clothing are bought each minute in the UK. That produces nearly 50 tonnes of carbon emissions – the same as driving 162,000 miles in a car.”
And notice that this statistic only looks at the UK.
And that’s not all. One of the biggest issues with fast fashion is that because the clothes are so cheaply made, they don’t last very long, and the vast majority end up in the landfill.
Just how much ends up in the landfill?
“A new survey found that the average American will toss out 81 pounds of clothing [a year]. That amounts to 26 billion pounds of textiles and clothes ending up in landfills.” (source)
One logical step is to donate those clothes. By sending them to your local thrift shop, they’ll eventually get into the hands of someone who actually needs/wants them, right?
According to one Goodwill source, 40% of all donations end up in the trash due to a variety of reasons such as being soiled, recalled, unsellable, out of date or fashion, etc. This not only is not good for the environment but also costs organizations like Goodwill money, which in turn drives up their prices to consumers. For even more context, read this post from a thrift shop manager.
I’m not saying donating to a thrift shop is bad. I’m suggesting that you find other methods FIRST. And know that if you try to pass off clothes to a thrift shop that aren’t in good condition, they’ll likely throw it out anyway.
One exception. Items specifically being asked for by organizations. For example:
- Dress clothes: There are a number of organizations/non-profits, women’s shelters, homeless shelters, etc., that will take dress clothes to help people do interviews, etc. Check around your town to see if there are any organizations. For example, my husband had a number of suits that didn’t fit, and he was able to take them to an organization that helped men get prepared for interviews.
- Wedding, prom, and bridesmaid dresses: there are a number of organizations who accept these items. See below for specific links and resources.
As with any donation, please make sure the item is in good condition, free of stains and smells, and can actually be used by someone else. Put yourself in the potential receiver’s place. Would you want that particular item?
Give Away or Sell
Your best bet is that if the clothing is still usable, to give it away or sell it. Doing so is a great way to make sure that it gets to someone who will actually use it.
Here are some ideas/resources:
- Host a clothing and shoe swap with friends or in your community! Here is a resource on how to do so.
- Post for free online:
- Sell (I have specific information for wedding, bridesmaid, and prom dresses below):
If the clothing items are not in great condition or not able to be worn, consider repurposing it.
- Reuse un-givable and unsellable clothes as ‘paper’ towels, tissues (pictured above), or cleaning rags. We have a ton of these around our house and they work great!
- Shoes: use old ones for gardening, mowing, cleaning the garage, playing outside, muddy walks/hikes, etc.
- Get crafty and DIY something like a t-shirt bag out of a shirt, etc. Check out my eco-friendly craft Pinterest board for inspiration.
- Wedding dress specific, but could provide inspiration for other clothing items! Ways to upcycle wedding dresses:
- Remove lace pieces from the wedding gown to make lovely embellishments for the hair, a customized garter belt, a wrap for the flower stems on the bride’s bouquet or special keepsake holiday ornaments.
- Cut a 3-4″ heart shape out of the dress fabric or lace. Give to a daughter, granddaughter or any special bride to stitch into the inside of her wedding dress bodice on the left side so that it’s close to her own heart. This can easily be done to the inside of the groom’s jacket as well.
If all else fails, and the item simply can’t be considered for any of the options above, there are some options for recycling textiles:
- Look into companies that accept textiles for recycling such as:
- Check with your local recycling company or local county to see if they offer textile recycling
- Need to recycle a bra? Check out The Bra Recyclers.
- Grab some community members and purchase a TerraCycle textile recycling box
- Did you know that 100% all natural fabrics can be composted? Examples include:
- Pure wool
Related post: The Ultimate Guide to Composting (in any sized space)
Where to donate wedding dresses
Some items are more specific and harder to donate. I’ve compiled a huge list of where to donate wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, and prom dresses and accessories.
- Wedding dresses: There are a number of options for getting rid of your wedding dress. Here are some of those options:
- Sell: You can always try to sell your wedding dress online or through a consignment shop. Check your local area to find one in your area.
Donate: There are some great organizations out there that are willing to take wedding gowns. Here are some:
- NICU Helping Hands: This organization is a well-known one for taking in wedding gowns and through the help of volunteers, creating gowns for babies who passed away in the hospital. However, at this time, they are not accepting more wedding gowns, but I wanted to point it out in case you or someone you know may want to try and donate to them in the future.
- Adorned in Grace: This is a bridal shop in Washington, but they accept mailed donations. All the proceeds from sales go towards human trafficking. They also appear to take other wedding attire, not just wedding gowns.
- Wish Upon a Wedding: This organization takes professionally cleaned dresses that are less than three years old and provides them for couples dealing with a terminal illness to help them get married. It’s Make a Wish, but for couples.
- Brides for a Cause: This organization accepts donated wedding gowns, sells them, and then makes donations to charities.
- Mary Madeline Project: Similar to NICU Helping Hands, this organization accepts wedding gowns and through the help of volunteers, sews gowns for babies who passed away while in the hospital, or for stillbirth babies. Note: At this time the organization cannot accept any more wedding gowns, but I wanted to include it in case you or someone you know wants to donate at a later date.
- Brides Across America: Recognized by Michelle Obama and Joe Biden, this organization accepts wedding gowns and donates them to military brides in need.
- Every Girl’s Dream: This organization accepts not only wedding gowns, but also other wedding attire and prom dresses. The donations are tax deductible. The organization donates dresses to girls in need in Michigan, but you can mail in any item.
- The Brides Project: The Brides Project is a bridal boutique in Michigan, and proceeds from sales of wedding gowns go towards the Cancer Support Community.
- The Bridal Garden: The Bridal Garden accepts wedding gowns and bridal accessories. Proceeds from the sales of gowns and accessories go towards education for disadvantaged children in New York.
- Cheri Amour Bridal: This organization will accept bridal gowns up to 10 years old. Proceeds from the sale of bridal gowns go towards Success in Style, an organization helping women re-enter the workforce, prepare for interviews, etc.
- Rest in His Arms: Like NICU Helping Hands and the Mary Madeline Project, this organization accepts wedding dresses to be made into gowns and outfits for babies who passed away in the hospital. Note: they are also not accepting donations at this time.
- Fairytale Brides: This is a bridal shop whose net proceeds go towards charities focusing on women empowerment.
- Donation Town: Find a charity near you that will pick up your wedding dress for donation
Where to donate bridesmaid and prom dresses
- Bridesmaid & Prom Dresses:
- Sell: You can sell your dresses at local consignment shops
- Becca’s Closet: Chapters all around the country accept prom dresses and accessories to distribute to high school girls who can’t afford them.
- Operation Prom: There are a handful of donation stores around the country – check the site for specifics – that accept prom dresses and accessories for a teen in need.
- Cinderella’s Closet USA: Find a donation store near you to donate your formal gowns and accessories to send a girl in need to prom.
- The Princess Project: Donates a dress and accessories to a girl in need to go to prom
- David’s Bridal: They accept prom dresses seasonally – check back occasionally to find out when they start accepting more.
- Donation Town: Find a charity near you that will pick up your wedding dress for donation
- Project Glam: Send in your prom dress to benefit a girl in need
- Priceless Gown Project: Accepts prom dresses year-round to help benefit a girl in need
How to recycle clothes hangers
While we’re on the topic of clothes, if you’re busy getting rid of clothing items, you may find yourself with an excess of clothes hangers. I know I did! Here are some options for giving away/donating/recycling:
- Offer them for free or give them away by asking friends/family or posting in one of the local community groups mentioned above (Freecycle, Buy Nothing Group, etc)
- See if local donation organizations need them
- Check with local daycare and childcare centers
- See if any local women’s or homeless shelters could use them
- See if your local school could use them
- See if your local dry cleaners could use them
- Wire hangers can sometimes be recycled into scrap metal. Contact your local recycling center to see if they accept them
- Your best bet for plastic hangers is to try and donate them. Because you can’t be 100% sure what type of plastic the hanger is made out of, it’s best not to recycle. If it’s broken, simply toss it if you can’t repair.
Related post: 35+ Decluttering Resources for Getting Rid of Physical, Mental, and Other Types of Clutter!
Now that you’ve responsibly gotten rid of your clothes using one of the options listed above (and assuming you’re following a minimalism/low/zero waste journey), a key component is to be very mindful of what items come back in.
Of course, you’re going to need to consume new clothes at some point (especially if you have kids). And realistically thinking, you’ll have clothes that end up worn out.
So how do you ensure that what comes in is sustainable and ethical? How do you ensure that your closet doesn’t become cluttered with clothes you don’t ever wear?
One item in, one item out rule
When it comes to clothing for myself, I follow the rule:
‘One item in, one item out’.
That means if I find a piece of clothing that I want to bring in, I must pick a like-item to go out (responsibly, of course). Like-item meaning I can’t bring in a pair of pants and get rid of a necklace. It must be a pair of pants that I get rid of.
This rule is easier when I have to find a replacement for something, but so far, it has worked well.
When it comes to my almost 4-year-old son, I follow the same rule. If I’m fortunate enough to receive hand-me-downs, they usually come by size. In that case, I’ll do one size in, one size out.
Sustainable and Ethical Clothing Ideas
I am by no means a fashion blogger, nor would I ever intend to be. There are much more fashionable people who specialize in that topic, and I’m going to leave it to them to educate.
However, I do know that second-hand items are super sustainable and super budget-friendly.
How are they sustainable? When you buy something second hand, you’re not contributing to any new resources being used for a new item. The item already exists! There is so much ‘stuff’ already in creation, that it almost seems silly to buy most things new if you really stop to think about it.
Not to mention that second hand clothing items are usually easy to find via all the sites I’ve listed throughout this post, locally, and online.
One of my favorite online second hand shops is ThredUP. When it comes to shopping for myself, I always check there first (this is not sponsored at all, I truly like shopping there). You can get brand name items which makes it easy to find clothes that I know will fit (based on brands/sizes I already have at home).
If you’re looking for other ideas, here is a list of sustainable and ethical online shops.
With a little planning ahead, responsibly recycling and getting rid of clothes is not only possible, but easy!
If you’re looking for more places to get rid of/recycle items properly, check out my comprehensive guide on the topic titled: ‘The Eco-Friendly Magic of Tidying Up’.
Want to learn how to adopt a reduction based lifestyle (through mindfulness, minimalism, anxiety management, and zero waste living but not sure where to start?