How & Where To Recycle Clothes

Recycling Old Clothes - For Days Bag

Wondering about recycling old clothes? You know the ones – too much love, too many stains, too many rips and tears, and too many mends…

I’ve been on a bit of a closet and house purge since we moved to Sacramento nearly two years ago! It seems never ending as I realize more and more things I can easily live without.

And my effort to follow the one-in-one-out closet method means the giveaway stack is always there, but what’s the best way to donate clothes and how do you recycle clothes that are too stained, too mended, or too personal to donate?

While most of us might donate them anyway OR put them in the trash, neither of those choices is actually good. Clothes don’t belong in a landfill! And I’ve read about how a great majority of the clothes donated can’t be sold, so they’re recycled or sent to the landfill.

If we can save some of those middle-people and all that work, then let’s do it!

Thankfully, it’s easy to recycle old clothing through a few companies working to collect old clothes – in any condition from any brand. The companies then separate the items into things that can be donated/sold, items to be fixed up, and items to be recycled.

Recycling Old Clothes - In Box to Mail In

Recycling Old Clothes

When should you donate/recycle clothing? I highly encourage you to wear and rewear clothing as much as possible. The most sustainable clothing are the ones already in your closet!

With this mentality, it’s worth it to invest in better made clothing (preferably made from eco-friendly materials and by fair-trade certified factories and individuals). And when you get a tear or rip – mend it yourself or take it to someone who can get you back in business! Each of these steps is a small step toward sustainable living!

But when it can’t be fixed much more or you accept that you’ll never be wearing it again, it’s time to move it along.

It’s great to donate clothes to local shelter, Goodwill, and Salvation Army locations, but make sure you’re only passing along clean, decent clothing. If you wouldn’t consider buying the item (no matter how inexpensive it is), then don’t waste nonprofit resources – recycle it yourself!

If you have undergarments to donate or recycle, read this article as undergarments are accepted by these companies.

Or give it back to an organization that can make the decision for you…

Recycling Old Clothes - For Days Bag + Reused Box for Pact Apparel

What happens to recycled clothes?

Most clothing fibers are too small to be remade into anything else. Oftentimes old clothes are shredded and turned into new products like insulation, carpet padding, etc.

Stores with Collection Bins for All Clothing in ANY condition:

There are a number of stores working to make the fashion world less wasteful. There is a lot of research out there about how polluting the fashion industry is – production to consumption to landfill!

More and more stores offer take back programs. The following stores accept items in any condition from any brand (make sure they’re clean). Some stores even offer a monetary incentive!

Columbia (accepts clothing and shoes)

Levi’s Stores + Outlets (20% off single item when you recycle there)

The North Face Stores + Outlets ($10 off next purchase of $100 at The North Face)

Mailing in Clothes for Recycling

If you’d prefer to mail in your clothes, there are absolutely options for you (and I’m using two of them right now).

Many major companies have partnered with Give Back Box, encouraging customers to use the shipping boxes and bags with their new items to send back their old items (helps that one-in-one-out method)!

This is a great option for workout wear too – be sure to check out these sustainable activewear options for women when you’re looking to replace.

I ordered adorable socks for our little guy from Wear Pact and got an email offering a free shipping label to send clothes back in. The shipping label covers 6 pounds of clothes, which is quite a bit!

You can always pay the $15 for a shipping label as well – an inexpensive way to make sure clothes aren’t going to the landfill!

The closed loop apparel brand For Days also sells give back bags. They come in one size for $20 (with periodic sales). The size pictured here is the large and I’m having a hard time filling it up! The cost is so minimal and the result is oh so great!

How to Recycle Shirts

Specifically for old t shirts, Marine Layer has a free program to recycle shirts. Get details about their free mail-in and drop programs on their ReSpun website.

So what clothes will you donate and recycle?!

Other Sustainable Recycling information…

Where to Recycle Household Goods (e.g. old electronics, phones, batteries, light bulbs, etc.) as well as the recycling basics everyone should know.

Recycle Bin Basics (what to recycle and how to do it the right way), including Store Drop Off + Plastic Bag Recycling

Here’s one specifically on how to recycle/donate undies & bras (don’t forget these tips on washing your bras & undies). Have shoes to donate, upcycle, or recycle? Check out these options for where to recycle your shoes.

Sustainable Living Basics

Shopping Bulk with Refill Pouches

How to Reuse Glass Containers (includes how to clean them out, clean off the labels, and label them anew)

Eco-Friendly Book Reading (not just e-books!)

How to Live Sustainably When your Partner Doesn’t Care

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  1. 5 stars
    I’m about to start my spring cleaning in my closet and this post is exactly what I needed! So happy I can always rely on you for Earth-friendly initiatives and introducing me to new places to shop. Thank you Luci!

    1. YES!!!! The bag is wonderful and especially great for those things you aren’t 100% sure about for donating. I also just signed up for a free mail-in sneaker program, so I’ll keep you posted on that!!

  2. 5 stars
    So many food products are now sold in resealable plastic pouches. Except for Terracycle (which is prohibitively expense) is there a way to recycle these?

    1. Hi Joanne! I know the debate and struggle well. First, I’ve had to learn and remind myself that these plastic pouches to help lower shipping emissions (because they take up less room and weight) AND they help to limit food waste because it can be sealed so well. BUT, yes, so frustrating about not being able to recycle most of them.

      Some brands have partnered with Terracycle to offer FREE programs to recycle their packaging. Of course the two brands I buy most in those types of packaging don’t, however. Also, some companies (very few) don’t use the Plastic #7 and many of those bags can be recycled in the store-drop off options (if you cut away any nozzles, zippers, etc.

      The best solution I’ve come up with is to reuse them. For us, we save them to put the absorptive pads in the bottom of meat containers in them. Since we don’t put much food waste in our garbage, we don’t take our bag out frequently (unless it smells). By removing those pads from the trash, we can go much longer, using fewer bags. So if you can find a way to reuse them someone (even just one more use) at least they’re serving an extra function before heading to the trash and landfill.

      I hope that helps!


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