How to recycle or upcycle old clothes?

How To Recycle or Upcycle Old Clothes: A Sustainable Approach

Posted by Brent Ferguson on

As we move toward a more eco-conscious society, the attention is increasingly turning to our wardrobes. Many of us are guilty of contributing to the surge in clothing waste due to the prevalence of fast fashion. However, the good news is that we can mitigate this problem through the practice of recycling and upcycling our clothes. This guide aims to educate you about the importance of sustainability in the fashion industry and how you can participate in this movement through clothing upcycling and recycling.

The Clothing Waste Crisis

Today, the average person buys significantly more clothing items annually than their predecessors did in the 1930s1. The downside to this consumer behavior is the subsequent rise in clothing waste. Americans alone discard around 81 pounds of clothing per year2. A majority of these discarded clothes end up in landfills or are shipped to overseas markets or dumping sites3.

Fast fashion, which emphasizes low prices and quick production, exacerbates this issue. The quality of clothing has sharply declined, leading to a higher turnover rate. Clothing items are more prone to damage, and repairing them is often viewed as more trouble than it's worth4.

Understanding the Journey of Donated Clothes

Donating clothes is a popular method to declutter wardrobes. However, not all donated clothes end up being worn again. Donated clothes are categorized into wearable (first grade) and non-wearable. The wearable clothes are sold in second-hand shops or exported to overseas markets5.

Despite our good intentions, not all donated clothes can be reused or resold. Charities often receive bags of dirty, unwashed clothes that end up going straight to the landfill6. Therefore, it's important to ensure that the clothes we donate are clean, in good condition, and sellable.

The Process How to recycle old clothes

Recycling is another option for getting rid of old clothes. The recycling process involves sorting the textiles by type, then shredding, grinding, and treating them. The resulting fibers can be used to create new fabric or other products like insulation, padding, or industrial textiles7.

However, recycling is not always the most environmentally friendly option. Some synthetic materials, such as spandex and lycra, are difficult to recycle8. To recycle effectively, it's crucial to understand the specific recycling requirements of different materials and to support brands that use recycled and sustainable materials.

Introducing How to Upcycle old clothes: A Creative Solution

Upcycling is an innovative solution that breathes new life into old clothes. It refers to the process of transforming old or discarded materials into something more valuable than the original. Upcycling is a fantastic way to keep clothes out of landfills and create something unique and personal9.

Upcycling does not require any special skills or creativity. There are numerous online tutorials and resources available to guide you through the process. You can start with simple projects like transforming a t-shirt into a halter top or a skirt into a headband10.

Upcycled Clothing Ideas: From Shirts to Accessories

Here are some creative upcycling ideas to transform your old clothes:


  • Convert an old t-shirt into a halter top or a crop top.

  • Repurpose a shirt into an apron or a skirt.

  • Turn an old shirt into a bag.


  • Recycle jeans into a tote bag.

  • Dye an old pair of jeans for a fresh look.


  • Upcycle a skirt into a headband.

  • Cut up a skirt into a scarf.


  • Upcycle a belt into a headband or a bandana into a headband.

Upcycling Heirloom Pieces

Upcycling isn't just for old clothes; it can also give a new lease of life to sentimental items or heirloom pieces. For example, you can transform a wedding dress or a bomber jacket into something new and fashionable11. If you're not confident in your skills, there are companies that specialize in repurposing these items.


Recycling and upcycling of old clothes is a sustainable and creative solution to the clothing waste problem. It not only helps reduce waste but also allows you to create unique, personalized items. Let's embrace the practice of upcycling and contribute to a more sustainable future.


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