It's no secret anymore: clothing waste is a big environmental problem. Clothing production has doubled between 2000 and 2014, and the world produced 16 million tons of textiles in 2016 — only 15% of which got recycled, according to an EPA estimate. Each American, for their part, disposes of 70 - 80 pounds of clothes on a yearly basis. (Did you even think you had that much space in your closet?) This means that 85% of our textile waste goes into landfills; taking up precious space and natural resources and taking eons to decompose. What we do recycle, however, will have nine symbolic lives — it will be re-sold, likely multiple times over, or repurposed and used in anything from art to housing insulation.
The next question comes naturally: what's a clotheshorse to do? The answer seems simple: recycle your unwanted clothes, no matter the shape they're in. Rachel Kibbe, co-founder of the New York-based clothing recycler Helpsy, emphasizes the point: "Never throw anything out," she says. But the simple answer begs another question: how? Are we supposed to schlep contractor bags full of hole-y t-shirts and single socks to the nearest Goodwill, knowing it's all too damaged to re-sell? Bring three tote bags to the super-picky local consignment store and walk away a mere two garments lighter? Kibbe wants us to think of textile disposal as recycling, not donation. "When you call something 'donation,' people feel like they need to self-sort, and they don’t give away all of their clothes." But even your most weatherbeaten garments can have a second life, so stop before you let them hit the refuse pile.
Luckily, a lot of our favorite brands are aware of the problem, and they are making efforts to help you recycle your old clothes and put a dent in this big issue. A number of environmentally conscious retailers have set up donation bins in their stores, and will reward customers with gift cards and coupons for every donation they make. Some have even set up programs to buy items back from customers for a low price, and then re-furbish and re-sell them in company-owned and operated stores.
We're rounding up all of the brands that will help you recycle your clothes, and will reward you with store credit so that you can responsibly replace those things in your closet you're totally over with something special that you're going to cherish for a long time.
PSA: If you can't make it to one of these retailers, Kibbe advises you to find a donation bin — one of those boxy behemoths that dot street corners and parking lots all over the country. (Fashionista broke the news earlier this week that New York's Department of Sanitation has published a comprehensive map of reputable clothing donation sites all over NYC, from stand-alone bins to thrift stores.) Because if you're going to shop for new clothes — and let's face it, if you're reading this article, you're probably going to shop for new clothes at some point — go the extra distance you recycle your old ones first.