12 landfill alternatives for old clothing

can you compost clothing?

I’ve had these shorts for a while….

Based on the brand alone I’d say they pre-date university.

All cotton, no stretch, meant they would quickly bag out in the butt and knees. A terrible quality for pants, the holy grail for cutoffs. And so they became shorts.

They made the cut to come with me to Australia, and they’ve since endured much wear with our endless summers and all (okay I’m lying, Australian winter is real). I’ve repaired them, they’ve ripped again. The back of one leg is now so short it’s almost in pocketland. They’ve disintegrated to reveal rather too much cheek for this thirty-something.

End of the (clothes)line

I knew a little about the dirty business of fashion, i.e. that it’s only less polluting than big oil, from exposure to Eco Fashion Week in Vancouver, founded by a friend of mine. In fact, I credit Myriam’s fashionable ways – all vintage, all fabulous- for inspiring my own foray into secondhand threads.

More recently, I zipped through book Wardrobe Crisis: How We Went From Sunday Best to Fast Fashion by Clare Press. It tracks the history, supply chains, and impacts of clothing manufacturing. Including denim.

wardrobe crisis book

Based on what I’ve learned, I’ll assume my shorts weren’t made under the best of conditions. So the moral pressure is on to dispose of them in the most responsible way possible.

What are my options?

12 landfill alternatives for old clothes

  1. Repair // If it’s just a hole or a rip, try mending to get tired clothing back into rotation. A pin and some thread is all you’ll need. Tailors are helpful for trickier jobs. Example, I get the straps of my bras shortened when they’ve stretched out but all else is still in good shape. I repaired a down vest that I badly melted by sitting too close to the fireplace way before Patagonia started their Worn Wear program.
  2. Consign // If you have a piece with miles left in it or something expensive, try consigning to get a bit of coin back. It can be hit and miss and consignment shops will usually only take clothing for the season ahead or be choosy about what they will take. Best to visit a shop and see.
  3. Swap // I swap with friends or my sisters all the time, but if you don’t have conveniently sized people in your life (hello size 11 feet…), there are lots of swap groups on Facebook where you can either give away for free or sell your pre-loved (or hated) clothing and accessories.
  4. Donate // Clothing in good condition and freshly cleaned can be dropped at charity op shops. They usually have drop chutes even outside of opening hours, but don’t leave piles outside – it’s not kind to volunteers, and it costs money for the shop if they have to dispose of excess. And furthermore, there’s the volume issue, which is to say, even forest fire evacuees don’t want your old clothes.
  5. Upcycle // Consider the possibilities! Shirts can become grocery bags, shoes can become planters, and so on. To Pinterest!
  6. Make rags // The small cloths I use to remove eye makeup used to be an old singlet. Snip snip.
  7. Textiles recycling // H&M will collect old clothing, from any brand, in store for reuse or recycling.
  8. Give to a gardener // Old clothing can be used as weed matting. Natural fibres only.
  9. Use as batting // Making a pillow, bolster or a pouf? You’ll need stuffing materials.
  10. Make a rag rug // I’m dying to make one! It involves making fabric ‘yarn’ (just strips) and weaving them.
  11. Compost // Clothes made from 100% natural fibres (wool, cotton, linen, silk, etc.) are okay for composting, but I would make the strips quite small before adding to your organics.
  12. Contemplate // Finally, try to avoid throwing out your old clothing in a fit of shame or guilt or decluttering madness. Experience mottainai. Don’t wait until you have to move house to deal with the proper stewardship of materials. Really considering our trash is the best way to internalize that more stuff is just more stuff to manage. They were useful, I will honour them. Clutter isn’t ideal, but neither is creating a vacuum that only more things will fill.
cutoff shorts
Dear shorts, you remind me of summer, of warmer weather, and my youth. Thanks for being awesome.

“The problem is the solution.”

My shorts are in dire shape. Definitely not suitable for resale, repair or donation, nor for weed matting.

Luckily, they’re 100% cotton and okay for recycling back into the soil. I’ll might eventually shred them into small pieces and distribute them over time into my compost. I will trim and save the pockets. I have a vague idea of a DIY for a safety razor travel bag. We’ll see.

I’m relishing the challenge of finding something useful in something that at first glance really appears to be useless. I adore the permaculture design principle that says ‘the problem is the solution’.

In the meantime, I am enjoying the cleverness of others. Some of my favourites are a plant pot coveranother, a tote bag, and this whale.

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