When we think about the major sources of pollution, it’s easy to assume that oil drilling and plastic companies are the only big offenders. But the fast fashion industry is also a major culprit: The United Nations Environment Programme found that the fashion industry produces 10 percent of carbon emissions worldwide, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe reported that the average consumer now purchases 60 percent more items of clothing compared to 2000 but keeps them for half as long.
Wearing clothes longer is a good place to start, but instead of letting your old clothes end up in a landfill, why not recycle them for a new use? Here are four ways you can upcycle old clothes (instead of just donating them to Goodwill).
Turn Them Into Rags
By transforming old T-shirts into rags, you can help protect the planet and save money in one fell swoop. Bonus points: It couldn’t be easier! Simply smooth the T-shirt out facedown on a flat surface and use laser-guided fabric scissors to cut just below the sleeves. Then flatten the bottom portion, trim off the edges and cut into as many pieces as desired. (An average T-shirt will probably yield two large rags and one or two smaller ones, depending on how you cut it.) These homemade rags are perfect for dusting furniture or cleaning counters.
Everything old will eventually be new again in the fashion world. Case in point: Headbands made a huge comeback in 2019. Rather than rushing out to buy your own, you can make some stylish pieces from clothes you already have on hand.
Simply cut a strip of fabric from a T-shirt that is twice the width you want it to be and that will fit comfortably around your head. After folding it end to end, sew the ends’ right sides together by hand or machine. Turn it right side out and viola! You have a cute new headband. Make a few at a time so you can mix and match them with your outfits every day of the week.
Look Into Textile Recycling
Companies like the American Textile Recycling Services accept lightly used clothes at drop-off locations and then reuse them for new purposes. Research the textile recycling locations closest to where you live, pack them into your reusable shopping bag and drop them off there. If you’ve purchased clothes from Patagonia, you can mail them back to be recycled or repurposed. (Wash the clothes before sending them back.) Some stores, including H&M and Eagle Outfitters, also feature in-store recycling bins.
Up your gardening game by composting old clothes. While you’ll want to avoid using clothing made with synthetic fibers, you can use clothing made from cotton or other natural fibers. Remove any zippers or buttons, shred the clothes into tiny pieces and add them to your compost bin. The compost will be a perfect base for any vegetable seeds or plants you want to grow. You’ll be harvesting garden-fresh goodies in no time!
By following these tried-and-true tips, you can give old clothes a new lease on life and reduce waste in the process. And by being more mindful about the new clothes you buy, you can invest in quality pieces that will last longer and help slow the rise of fast fashion.
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Rebekah Bell is a writer who lives in Los Angeles.