How To Dispose Of Old Clothes The Right Way

4 ways to give garments that can't be sold, donated or repaired a new life.
By H.G. Watson
A photo of an embroidery of a black cat sitting on top of a laundry pile against a pink fabric background. (Embroidery illustration, Ashley Wong; Photography, Erik Putz)

When a garment reaches the end of its life and can no longer be mended, it’s time to get creative. Irina McKenzie, the founder of Fabcycle, a Vancouver-based social enterprise that collects fabric to divert it from landfills, shares some inspiration on what to do next.


1. Make something

If you’re crafty or know someone who is, old clothing makes excellent filling for things like pillows, footstools and pet beds, particularly for dogs who love cuddling up to the scent of their humans. McKenzie notes that it’s also worth offering up what you have as scraps for other makers on Facebook Marketplace or on Buy Nothing groups. If the piece has emotional value, try making (or hiring someone to make) a throw pillow or a stuffed animal you can hug from the remnants of your beloved garment. Related: A Beginner's Guide To Mending Clothes

2. Bring back the rag

Cut up old clothes made of absorbent fabrics, like cotton, into cleaning rags. Bonus: You’ll save on paper towels and microfibre cloths.

3. Find alternative donation sites

Animal shelters often take towels, blankets and fur to help care for their rescues. Some schools and daycares also use fabric scraps for arts and crafts. “Phone your municipality’s waste management hotline for a list of organizations that reuse textiles in your community,” says McKenzie. Related: 4 Ways To Shop Smarter

4. Scrap it

McKenzie’s top tip: Never put fabric in the trash (not even holey socks)—it generates greenhouse gases as it decomposes and can leach harmful dyes and chemicals into the soil. 

As a last resort, bring clothing that’s beyond use to a donation bin (not a thrift store), where it will be sent to be sorted and, if it has value, sold to be shredded and reused. “Unfortunately, we don't have a great system,” she admits. “This is what we have to work with currently, they're the only ones that can take those materials.” McKenzie suggests putting more intimate items, like socks and underwear, together in a bag and listing the contents on it.

Originally published in 2022, updated in 2023.


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