June 8, 2020
How to Recycle Clothes Ecologically by Teresa Maria
A Guide for Sustainable Recycling
A watch, beanie, sweater, and jeans with a tulip resting atop the stylish pileSource: Pexels
Since the C-word hit, the world has been changing faster than we could ever have predicted. People are looking for more meaningful and sustainable ways to live life. And one aspect of sustainability, that I get asked about a lot, is how to recycle clothes ecologically.
This is a very valid question. But also one for which we don’t have an answer. Yet.
On average, we toss 13 MILLION TONS of clothing in one year. The word to focus on here being ‘toss.’ We throw away a lot of clothing, even though 95 percent of it could be recycled.
The clothes that end up in a landfill somewhere release a lot of greenhouse gases as they degrade. This is in addition to the fashion industry being the second biggest polluter in the world – right after the oil industry. We all know about the cons of oil. But nobody’s talking about the damage the clothing industry is doing.
Well, it’s time to change that! We don’t have a fool-proof solution for how to recycle clothes ecologically, but there’s a lot that we can all do to make a positive impact.
Why Recycling Clothes is so Unsustainable
Before we dive into how we can all do our part, I want to explain why recycling clothes is so problematic.
The harsh reality with our recycled clothes is only 1 percent of all the material is actually used in textile production.
At the moment, only fabrics that are 100 percent the same material can be recycled. But most of our clothes are a blend of polyester and one or two other materials. There’s no solution for how to separate the materials from each other.
But we can already glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel! When it comes to ecological alternatives for the clothing industry, Finland is showing us the way. A biorefineries research group at Aalto University has discovered a way to “melt” the cotton from cotton-polyester mixed fabrics.
The melted cotton could then be reused as new fabric. The research is still ongoing and they’re next going to see if the polyester can be upcycled like this as well.
Oil-based Synthetic Fabrics are an Environmental Threat
When we throw away our clothes, we don’t spare much thought for what becomes of them. But when around 60 percent of all the clothes made today are made out of synthetic materials, the environmental strain has become a huge issue.
The most widely used synthetic fabric is polyester. What many don’t know is polyester is basically made out of oil. It’s plastic. And we all surely know plastic doesn’t degrade.
So, when we drag truck-loads of polyester clothes to landfills, they’ll keep releasing copious amounts of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, polluting the whole planet indefinitely.
Polyester is a very problematic fabric also because recycling it requires a lot of chemicals. And we know how environmentally friendly chemicals are, right?
How to Recycle Clothes Ecologically
The recycle symbol fashioned out of old fabric scrapsSource: Envato Elements
At the moment there’s no legislation for how to recycle clothes ecologically. And without legislative pressure, most of us won’t spare a thought for the issue. But things are changing!
The European Union has already taken steps and issued a directive on textile waste: by 2025 all textiles in the EU area must be collected separately.
The Union is encouraging member states to embrace the circular economy. Because let’s face it, shipping all our shit to landfills in faraway countries makes no sense on any level.
But until this scheme becomes reality, the responsibility to take care of our own waste lays on us. So, let’s get to work for a better future!
Recycling Intact Clothes
We’ve all probably done this: booking a table or a rack from a second-hand store and brought clothes there to be resold. It’s one of the most ecological ways to dispose of unwanted clothes. And you earn a bit of extra at it too!
The internet has given us a lot of new opportunities, one of them being the ability to sell our clothes without an intermediary. Well, almost.
The online secondhand platforms do take a little commission from your earnings, but the process overall is a lot easier than pricing and organizing your clothes in a physical store.
Now there’s another new way of selling where clothes are the currency! Swapping is a brilliant way to dispose of your unwanted pieces by trading them for someone else’s unwanted pieces that you happen to love!
Recycling Broken Clothes
Use Them as Rags Around the House
Most of our clothes are made out of synthetic, oil-based materials that’ll never degrade. So, we must find new use for them when wearing isn’t an option anymore.
One of the easiest ways to recycle them is to use them as rags in your bathroom, kitchen, or in the garage.
Take Them Apart
Our clothes can easily be given a new life as something completely else. For example, the inside lining of underpants can be cut out and used as reusable make-up wipes instead of cotton pads.
And before you go “Eeew, how unhygienic,” I do trust that you’d be smart enough to wash the panties before using parts of them as make-up wipes… Right?!
DIY upcycled daisy chain skirt by Annika VictoriaSource: UPCYCLED DAISY CHAIN SKIRT | Style Pile #17 | Annika Victoria
Upcycling is simply a way to recycle your old or broken clothes to make them into something new.
For example, a pair of jeans can be turned into denim shorts by just cutting off the legs, a basic top can be turned into a drawstring top, a maxi dress into a midi or mini dress, etc., etc., etc.
The options go as far as your imagination!
See if They Can Be Composted
If, and ONLY IF a garment is 100 percent made out of natural material (this includes threads used in sowing, etc.) you can actually compost it.
Natural fibers do degrade back into the earth, unlike synthetic materials. But do be careful not to bog down your compost with synthetic fabrics.
The Uncomfortable Truth
We’ve bought and thrown away so many clothes in the past 20 years alone that there’s not much that could be done about their environmental impact. Instead, the clothes will remain and pollute our planet for hundreds of years to come.
The only way forward is to cut the consumption curve: we need to STOP buying excessively. There’s no ecological solution to dispose of our clothes. The clothes you have bought are here to stay, whether you like it or not.
So please, make sure you don’t send your clothes to the landfill anymore, and spread the word!
This is the best chance we’ve got right now. New technology is coming, but it’s not here yet. And until it comes, we’re running out of time. Our planet is running out of time.
A girl standing casually in a gardenSource: Pexels
I hope this guide into clothing recycling has been helpful and that it’s inspired you to look after your current clothes more.
We don’t need to make huge changes or take enormous steps to change our whole lifestyle. But we do have to start taking responsibility of the problem that we are a part of.
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