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Recycling Old Clothes

Updated on March 31, 2014
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is a published author, freelance writer, and photographer. She also specializes in horses.


I used to work at a charity thrift shop that resold donated clothes and household goods. I was a sorter. Mine and my co-workers' job was to examine every piece of clothing for stains and rips, missing buttons, or anything that made it unsuitable for selling in the shop. I estimate 90% of what came in the back door did not make it to the floor to be sold to our customers.

We "green bagged" all of the rejected clothing, bedding and other textiles. Textiles include all things made of fabric or cloth, including clothes, bed sheets, towels, curtains and table clothes. I being the curious type, asked right away what would happen to the green-bagged goods? What I learned was a recycler bought them by the pound, more money for the charity and less stuff going to the landfill. It was a win-win situation for everyone, including those people cleaning out their closets.

Still curious, I wondered what the recycling company did with those tons of clothes? My boss didn't really know, so I Googled "recycled clothes" to find out. What I learned was that no matter how dirty or ragged, every fiber of discarded textiles can be reused and recycled. And given that billions of pounds of what goes into our landfills is textile materials, I vow never to throw another piece of clothes in the trash.

Rag sorting companies buy the textiles from charity organizations and counties or cities that provide centers for people to drop of their old clothes. I live in a rural area where we take our own trash and recyclables to one of several centers throughout the county. Each center has bins for clothes, shoes, belts, and pocketbooks. The same company that buys from the thrift shop where I worked also buys discarded clothing from the county, going around and emptying those bins at the waste disposal centers.

About half of those textiles go to foreign countries. Unusable garments can be made into wiping and polishing rags. Those are sold to industries and consumers. The rest are shredded into fibers to make new products. Beside new clothes the fibers go into making archival paper, blankets, insulation, and even plastic fencing.

Do It Yourself

A quick browse through Pinterest and you'll be over whelmed by ways to re-purpose old clothes and bed sheets and pillowcases. Quilting, crocheting or braiding rag rubs, wall hangings, curtains, new clothing items, tote bags, and the list goes on and on.

Just never, ever through these fabric items in the trash. They still have life and someone somewhere can use them.


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    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      I figured that the thrift shop would give clothes for recycling, but for some reason I didn't make the connection that I should donate all of my clothes. Right now, I throw away the stuff I don't think will be sellable. From now on, I will thrift those as well.

    • profile image

      shirley 5 years ago

      I own a thrift stores and I am in need of a place to sell used clothing to. can you tell me where in colorado i can ?

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 6 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      This hub is going in my collection of "recycle" folders as well as forwarding it to friends. I am an avid recycler!!! At one time, I even purchased enough cloth shopping bags at the 99 cent store...then went to my local supermarket and handed them out to people who I noticed didn't have or bring them along.

      There are still so many folks who use plastic bags and most appreciate the idea of using cloth bags instead. (I wrote a hub on this last year ).

      Thank you so very much for this marvelous and informative and helpful hub. Voted up!


    • profile image

      Linda 7 years ago

      Discarded clothing can also be used to make art. It is my paint. I invite you to visit my website and see my portraits and figurative works made solely from castoff garments

    • profile image

      Phyllis 7 years ago

      I wish to gather used clothing, etc. from locals, bundle it up and ship it to a recycling outlet. I live in Colorado. Do you know of recycling outlets near here?

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 7 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Tuck, check your yellow pages or google recycled clothes, rags, for your city.

    • profile image

      Tuck 7 years ago

      who buys these clothes? I do house clean outs and come into contact with a lot of clothes

    • Staci-Barbo7 profile image

      Staci-Barbo7 8 years ago from North Carolina

      Donna, I enjoyed this Hub, as I have always recycled clothing we can longer use - either directly or through clothing closets and community thrift shops. Even though I always donate clothing items in good condition, I've seen people donate items that were not, and I always wondered what the thrift stores did with them.

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 9 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Very slowly. I just sent and email yesterday inquiring about it. April said she needs a clone to get everything caught up. I know the feeling.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 9 years ago from California Gold Country

      BTW-- how is the T-shirt book coming?

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 9 years ago from California Gold Country

      I love this Donna.

      I am also in the process of downsizing my wardrobe. I don't want to donate any clothes that are worn or stained-- that would be insulting to the buyer no matter how 'disadvantaged' they might be.

      You probably know that the American art form of patchwork quilts was a way of not wasting any scrap of cloth. Red was a particularly popular color for quilt pieces since no one wanted to wear red after the revolution. It was too closely associated with the 'Redcoats".

      I'll admit I have some things--(but way too many) that are good for doing dirty-work and painting, but I still have way more than I need. I'm going to ask a couple of places around here if they recycle cloth that might not be wearable.

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 9 years ago from Central North Carolina

      And in American colonial days they made rag rugs from worn out clothes. They either wove them or made to braided rugs.

    • Stephanie C Price profile image

      Stephanie C Price 9 years ago from Williamston, NC

      "Back in the day" there were people called Rag Men who went around collecting old textiles to be recycled into rags. How did we get out of that mindset in the first place? This was an especially interesting article to me as I am getting rid of so much clothing right now.

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 9 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Don't give up, Eileen. There are still gorwing pains here, too. But I believe if we let our collective voices be heard then it will get easier, and less costly. I wrote a children's picture book that will be out later this year about a T-Shirt that is recycled. This is such a great way to get the children involved. Let them pack their old clothes and take them either to a thrift shop to be donated or the recycling center.

    • proudgrandpa profile image

      proudgrandpa 9 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      Right on Donna. It only takes a mindshift and all of us putting our thoughts out there and it will dawn on people that there is a better way than the landfill.

      Thanks for your thoughts. NEIL

    • Eileen Hughes profile image

      Eileen Hughes 9 years ago from Northam Western Australia

      That is brilliant then if it is used. In west Ozzie a lot of recyled products are dumped (not saying clothes) But we go through the recycle process only to find out it costs too much for the mobs to recycle it.

      Therefore a lot is still being dumped after we think we have done the right thing all for nothing.