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Can the Can! Reducing your Fashion Footprint without the landfill

Planning a spring-time decluttering session to make room for your summer clothing or just trying to lose some unwanted “weight”?  If so, you may want to rethink the “keep, donate, toss” method of going through your wardrobe. Textiles are quickly becoming one of the most abundant items showing up in landfills today and boy do they wreak havoc on our environment.   

Serious pretty young woman sorting laundry at home

Textile waste is stacking up at an alarming rate partly because consumers are buying more and keeping it half as long.

Fabrics are flying more frequently out of our drawers and into our landfills these days. And, while taking their own sweet time to decompose, they are constantly producing toxic greenhouse gasses.  Not only are these gasses hazardous to the environment but they are dangerous to our health, as well.  Wondering what the average amount of textile waste per person is in just one year in the United States?  82 pounds!  If that doesn’t alarm you, how about the fact that after the clothing is dumped into landfills, that once trendy but now outré crop top or “so-last-year’s” low rise pair of jeans could take on average 40 years to decompose. 

Some items take even longer. A rubber boot sole could take 50 – 80 years.  And, while the castaways of our closets slowly disintegrate they release gases like methane which is far worse than carbon dioxide because it absorbs 20 times more heat in the atmosphere.  If that’s not bad enough, along with producing toxic methane gas, any dyes and chemicals that make up that textile will leach into the soil and water.

How did we get here?  Partly a trend called fast fashion, where stores supply and we consume low cost clothing that doesn’t last as long, and partly our misunderstanding of what to do with our clothing when we no longer need or want it.  Once we thought it was okay for any unwanted clothing or shoes in passable condition could be donated (shabby chic!) and anything else that was falling apart or had unrepentant stains could be thrown away.  Unfortunately, the throwing away part is happening at a far greater rate – consumers are buying more and keeping it half as long and this generates a huge amount of waste.  

Clothing donation box

Most consumers are taking the convenient route when it comes to discarding their items.  A survey by Savers, a global thrift retailer, found that 1 in 3 people who chose not to donate their clothing found it easier to throw it out with the trash. It has since been discovered that the survey greatly underestimated by half the amount that actually is being thrown away.  The lack of information and perception of what can be donated is also contributing to the amount of textile waste in landfills.  From the same survey, 1 in 3 people didn’t know that 90% of thrown away clothing items can be reused or recycled – not as clothing but as recycled textiles

Did you know that Goodwill and other charitable clothing organizations will accept just about every item no matter how worn or torn or even stained including your ratty undergarments?  There’s no need to be shy when we’ve got the environment to worry about!  Goodwill reports that with all that is donated, typically less than 20% will be sold in their retail shops. The rest will be sorted and sent off to for-profit textile recycling companies.  So those single gloves, socks with holes, and those worn or missing-a-mate shoes can all go to Goodwill instead of the trash bin. This will generate profit for Goodwill and continue the cycle into new items.

Smiling young housewife holding heap of clothing

So, what kind of items can be made from recycled textiles?  Used textiles get a new life when they are made into items like industrial rags or reprocessed fibers that can be used in products like carpet and insulation.  Nike is a good example of pushing the life cycle of used athletic footwear by reprocessing shoes for its line of Nike Grind materials.  Nike Grind uses the reprocessed material to make anything from new footwear, and apparel to sports surfaces for running tracks, courts, turf fields, gym floors and carpet padding, and playgrounds.


What a better way to use old Nike’s than turning them into a playground! Photo:

Madureira playground in Brazil, photo:

Madureira playground in Brazil, photo:

But Nike isn’t the only game in town looking to reuse textiles.  Blue Jeans Go Green will take your tired jean jacket- including that denim mini skirt from the 80’s – and make sustainable housing insulation.  If you’re wondering what to do with your old socks and underwear, the retailer Nice Laundry will send you a prepaid label so you can send in your old stuff when you order new socks or underwear.  And, how about those old bras, ladies?!  Those can be recycled, too! Check out for donation bins near you. In case you’re curious, they also take sports bras. But if you’re crafty, you can give that retired bra its second life on your own and make a purse or a stuffed ball for your dog.


Three cheers for blue jeans!  A second life for denim as home insulation.  Photo:

So, what else we can do make our clothing footprint smaller?

  • Buy QUALITY not quantity – go for clothing that will stand the test of time, both in terms of fabrics and workmanship as well as style
  • Buy natural textiles that do break down like cotton, silk, wool cashmere, and hemp.  Natural fabrics can also be composted.
  • Consign brand clothing
  • Take care of what you have so it lasts longer
  • Host a clothing swap party
  • Donate to charitable organizations that work with textile recycling programs

We’ve done some homework for you when you do want to get rid of unwanted clothing.  Take a look!… 

How about you?  What are some creative uses you’ve had for old clothing?  Post some thoughts on our FaceBook page about this week’s blog post or send us an email about blog ideas at

Deb Fries is a freelance designer and writer and has worked with Julianna Rae in graphics and customer support.  She now writes lifestyle posts for the blog at