Is it time to declutter your wardrobe?

It's a new year and new beginnings, I expect like me, you're probably looking at your wardrobe and thinking - When was the last time I actually wore some of these clothes? Is it time to declutter? There are probably outfits that don't fit anymore, have gone out of fashion or even clothes that you've never worn and most likely never will! If you're feeling really brutal about decluttering, you'd probably end up with at least one bin bag full of clothing, that can be given to charity, sold or passed down, but there are always some pre-loved clothing that are too pre-loved to be able to be give away.

But what then? 

Putting theses in the bin is one way of getting rid of those un-useable clothes, but are they really un-useable? Or could they actually be recycled?   In 2018 the European market generated approximately 2.2 million tons of textiles waste, which has double in the last 20 years. The textiles industry is a massive problem; overproduction and overconsumption, even when you think you are being responsible consumers only about 40% is actually being recycled into new clothing and used to make other products, the rest is either being sent to other countries to resell or to landfills.  

Children's clothing brand | Little Pegs | Illustration of industrial digger dumping clothing into landfills

I haven't written this blog post to spread dome and gloom to your new year, I don’t even want to give you the idea that you have to choose between two evils. Some things are really complicated, but this blog is to inform you, so that you can make your own choices.

What is being done to help reduce textiles waste?

Instead of old textiles ending up in land fills the European market is working towards a more sustainable approach and creating a recyclable process by which clothing and other textiles are recovered for reuse or material recovery.  You're probably thinking that the main culprit of the waste is the actual textiles industry itself, and yes there is a lot of waste when producing garments! But there are three primary sources of textiles waste within the textiles industry:

  1. Post-consumer, including garments, upholstery, and others
  2. Pre-consumer, including scrap created as a by-product from yarn and fabric manufacturing
  3. Post-industrial scrap textiles from other industries

According to the CBI Ministry of foreign affairs..'in the end, only 15% of consumer-used clothing is recycled, whereas more than 75% of pre-used clothing is recycled by the manufacturers.'  As consumers, we are just as responsible for the clothing/textiles life cycle as the companies, manufacturers that create the garments themselves, yet the lowest percentage of the three sources of textiles waste is unfortunately us, the consumer.  So how can you as a person make a difference, if you want to become a more responsible consumer then here are my top tips for helping you along the way.

What are my choices for recycling old clothing?

Your best and easiest option is to take them to your local recycling center, which is run by your local council, textile recycling offers the following environmental benefits:

  • Decreases landfill space requirements, bearing in mind that synthetic fibre products do not decompose and that natural fibres may release greenhouse gasses
  • Reduced consumption of energy and water
  • Pollution avoidance
  • Lessened demand for dyes

These centers will sort the clothing into 3 groups:

Fibre group - un-useable garments

The garments that are classified as 'fibres' that will be made into something else.  The fibres are sorted based on their fibres and colour's.  The reason behind the colour sorting is to reduce the energy used and to stop further pollution being released through the re-dying process.  The pile of natural materials are then pulled into fibres and shredded, then either cleaned and re-spun for use in new clothing, or compressed for use in textile filling.    The polyester-based materials are shredded, granulated, and then shaped into pellets, which can be melted down and reused to create new clothing.

Rags group

Any un-useable clothing are re-purposed into ragged and then used within different industries. 

Children's clothing brand | Little Pegs | Illustration of a decluttered wardrobe and three bin bags fibre, rags and re-useable clothes

Re-usable garments group

It's pretty self explanatory, but there is downside to this type of recycling, particularly when 61% of these garments will be exported to developing countries; your probably thinking….this is a good thing right?  But the reality is that we are just putting off the inevitable, dumping our clothes on these developing countries has a negative impact; it strangles local textiles manufacturers, which in-turn impacts of native dress and also causes local waste by filling up their landfills. So although we think we are actually helping these communities (because that’s what we are told) in fact we are actually putting pressure on their own economy and waste issues.

But what if my local council doesn’t offer these recycle services?

I've put together a few suggestions of other ways that maybe available to you; both non-profit charity options and end of life services, which will ensure, your clothes will either end up in your local community where the money is used to support developing countries and/or local projects or sent to recycling centres, to make fibres into new clothing, or rags. 

How can I recycle unwearable clothing?

Soex is a company based in Germany that's philosophy is re-wear, re-use, re-cycle and re-search to support a zero waste initiative.  Their goals is to keep use of textiles 100 percent in the product cycle to conserve natural resources and avoid waste.  Currently they are only available in a selection of countries, but they are always looking for partners and one of these is I:Collect.

I:Collect is a company that focuses on end of life products, they have partners, including several global retailers in more than 60 countries where you can drop your unwanted, unwearable clothes and they will collect from these locations around the world, carefully sort the items and either reuse or recycle them ensuring maximum reutilization of these valuable materials.  If you would like to find a drop off point with one of their collaborators click here.

What non-profit charities should I donate too?

My top tip for donating to charity is that you actually drop it off at your local non-profit clothing store. Each country in the European Union has national charities, government-funded operations, or private companies that make up an ever-increasing network of clothing recycling/reselling operations.  Some examples of the benefits of locally run networks are wide-reaching donation containers that extend into rural areas and villages, and advanced postal donation services that allow boxes over 30kg to be posted free of charge. You do need to be careful, they aren't always who they say they are, so check that they are non-profit companies', otherwise you may find that your clothes never find their way to a charity shop or recycling center.   If there aren't any local non-profit organisation near you then the larger more international charities offer pick-up/drop off services that give more flexibility for you to donate, here's a few international non-profit organisations that will do good with your donations.

Red Cross

Donating is easy and can have some extra benefits. Depending on your country, you may be able to donate via the post. You can order a donation bag, fill it up, and drop it off at a collection point all free of charge. Some countries offer a reward programme that allows you to collect points towards vouchers to spend in shops. Please contact your local store to find out if this is available in your area. One more benefit to donating to the Red Cross is that in some countries they are able to claim a tax credit against the value of the items that you donate. Ask if this is available in your area and if so, fill in the form when sending in your clothes.

Children's clothing brand | Little Pegs | Illustration of a chariety shop with donated clothes sitting outside

Oxfam International

Oxfam International is an organisation, which has been under a lot of scrutiny in past years, apparently unsold items donated go to landfill, but this isn't the case.  In 1974 Oxfam became the first charity to develop it's own facility for recycling and reusing clothes - Wastesaver and CTR now handle 12,00 tonnes of textiles every year from donations to Oxfam. They have a series of different ways to use your donations including, festival shops, Oxfam online store, retails stores and they work with a variety of partners, to ensure that none of your donations go to landfills.  Oxfam operates in every EU country with a wide network of second-hand shops and clothing containers.  The money they gain from your donations goes towards helping people, the environment and most importantly our children's futures.

There are four ways to donate clothing to Oxfam. First is to drop off items directly at their stores or at partner stores that accept deposits.  The second method is a home collections service. This is not available in all regions or countries, so please check with your local shop for availability and times. The third option is to send your clothing donations by post. Again, this service is not available in all regions, so please check locally. Finally, the fourth option is to attend an event hosted by Oxfam or one of their partners that has a collection facility.

Salvation Army

The Salvation Army started over 150 years ago as a small charity helping local poor people. It now operates in 130 countries worldwide offering funding for community services such as disaster relief, youth, and family aid along with other domestic and work issues.

The Salvation Army is well known for its thrift stores. You can donate your unwanted clothes directly in the stores and they will resell items that are in a good saleable condition.  The Salvation Army does have the facility to organise worn-out items and textile donations to be recycled, so this might be a good option for items you are not sure about as well as your ‘once loved’ clothes.

Key takeaways ….

Where your clothing will go, and what they'll become, is really up to the people handling and sorting them. You shouldn’t necessarily feel discouraged from recycling clothing, but rather cautious about what organisations you donate clothing too.   As you start to declutter your wardrobe think about the life-cycle of the garments and instead of putting them in just the one bin bag, split them into the three key groups: fibre, rags and re-useable.  Then send them to the best place so that your clothing can be given a new lease of life, whether it's to a new owner, or being made into a new type of textiles… I could say that clothes aren't just for a season, but for life :)


To find out more about how clothing recycling is growing in Europe, visit the European Clothing Action Plan’s (ECAP) website.

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