5 Ways to Dispose of Unwanted Clothing Without Harming the Environment

5 Ways to Dispose of Unwanted Clothing Without Harming the Environment

Spring is upon us and the days are longer and warmer (unless you live in Colorado...hello,  April blizzards) and it’s the perfect time of the year to think about de-cluttering your home and closet.

With the launch of Marie Kondo’s new Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo many are using her decluttering method to purge their wardrobes in hopes of living a more minimalistic lifestyle and, if you read my wardrobe capsule blog posts, you’ll know that I am all for this! However, there is a real environmental consequence to simply hauling your bags of unwanted items to second hand stores- something that I was not taking into consideration when I last encouraged you to donate your unwanted clothing.

Sidenote: Living a sustainable lifestyle is a process. We will all make mistakes and while I wish I was like one of those youtubers showcasing a mere mason jar full of their month’s waste, sometimes it simply isn’t realistic. The important thing is to care and to continually strive to educate yourself and take steps to reduce waste, vote with your dollar and be the best conscientious consumer that you can be.

So what is the problem with donating unwanted items to thrift stores--they ultimately go to charity, right? Not necessarily. The reality is that a vast majority of the clothing we give away end up in a landfill and what is “donated” to developing countries actually damages the local economy and robs people of economic opportunity for their craft and skill set. For more information on this, I highly recommend watching the documentary The True Cost

According to Huffington Post associate lifestyle editor Suzy Strutner, most second hand stores sort through donations to determine what is sellable and those items will be on their retail floors for a mere 4 weeks. After that the item gets sent to  a “By the Pound Liquidation Outlet”

Molly Stillman, one of my favorite ethical blogger’s and podcasters recently did a podcast on this topic and says:

According to the EPA, Greenpeace, The New York Times, and a few other resources, more than 15 million tons of used textile waste is generated each year in the United States. In other words, we throw away a lot of clothes in this country. However, only 2.62 million tons were recycled, and 3.14 million tons were combusted for energy recovery. The rest was shipped off to the landfill. An even crazier statistic, the average American throws away approximately 80 pounds of used clothes each year.”

Feeling overwhelmed and discouraged yet? I don’t blame you. The good news is that there ARE alternatives to donating unwanted items to your local thrift shop. Here are my favorites:

  • 1. Hand-me-downs:

  • I don’t know about you, but I always get excited when a friend or family member asks if I’d like to go through their unwanted clothing, it’s like thrifting without having to spend any money! My sister-in law is ecstatic when I bring over a bag of clothes for her and my nieces to dig through- and they actually wear what they keep! However, only hand down items that are in good condition- don’t simply make that “tee shirt with the weird stain on it” someone else’s problem to discard of. Once they go through your items, offer to take back the items they didn’t want to keep.

    2. Organize a clothing swap.

    A clothing swap is an opportunity for friends and community to come together and exchange their quality wardrobe items for someone else’s. It’s a fun way to add fresh new pieces to your own closet while discarding of the items you don’t want responsibly.

    Local sustainable inspiration and extraordinaire, Satomi of Weigstead recently organized a clothing swap for the Colorado Springs community and it was a blast! Again, it’s like shopping without having to spend any money! There were truly some good finds (my friend scored some Madewell!!) and I found a pair of jeans that actually fit just right. What are the odds? Many an item of clothing was rescued from a landfill that day.

    3. Sell


    With organizations like ThredUp, Poshmark and even Facebook Marketplace, selling clothing has never been easier! You may think it is selfish to try to profit from your unwanted clothing instead of donating them but as we have learned that can do more harm than good!

    4. Re-purpose

    I turned to our incredible artistic creative manager, Kate, for some advice on the best ways to repurpose old clothing. She says:

    “This is a chance to get creative, and possibly breath new life into many parts of your home and your arts and crafts time.

    -Have a beloved garment that is stained? Consider dying it! Using your trusty friend Google, you can find tutorials and natural dye products in a plethora of colors! You can also find ways to dye clothing with natural herbs, spices, etc, that may already be nearby!

    -What about a favorite clothing item that has ripped? You can find tutorials on patching or mending online and on-the-cheap! It’s always satisfying to pick up a new skill like sewing!

    -If neither option is appealing, you could utilize the garment by cutting it up and using the fabric in your embroidery hoop! Embroidery is a fun, meditative and inexpensive craft and a perfect way to re-purpose clothing you no longer want to wear!

    -Finally, consider using old fabric from clothing as cleaning and polishing cloths around the house.

    If you are looking for a fabulous local resource for learning to re-purpose, check out Textile West! They offer a delightful variation of classes, such as upcoming Stitch Play, that will teach you different stitches (that could be in embroidery projects) and many upcoming classes about how to dye different types of fabrics and fibers.  

    5. Recycle


    There are many excellent resources for textile recycling such as USagain, an organization that provides convenient donation bins across the country that is on a mission to make textile reuse convenient and to maximize waste reduction.  

    Yobel Market will be attending the Earth Day Pop Up at the Pikes Peak Market in Colorado Springs on Saturday, April 20th and will be collecting clothing and shoes for USagain at our booth. Bring your unwanted clothing and shoes to donate and receive a special discount!

    I hope these resources have inspired you to think of fun and creative ways to rescue your textiles from a landfill! I'd love to hear from YOU. How do you like to dispose of unwanted textiles responsibly? Comment below!

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