Sustainable Fashion #2 – What to do with clothes you no longer want

Last month we talked about buying less – including ways to acquire ‘new-to-you’ clothes without producing more and harming the environment. This month, we look at the other side of the coin: what to do with clothes we no longer want?

Tempting as it may be to declutter and get rid of things, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect and plan, to make sure we’re doing all we can to reduce the environmental impact of our wardrobe.

Remember, the impact of clothing waste is huge: every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned. In the UK alone, we throw an estimated 336,000 tonnes of used clothing in the bin every year. Three out of five items of clothing end up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being produced. And discarded clothing made of non-biodegradable fabrics can sit in landfills for up to 200 years.

And Covid may have made things worse: last year, waste charity Wrap estimated that two in five people had carried out wardrobe clear-outs during lockdown, and of those one in three put unwanted textiles in general rubbish. So – assuming we’re already trying to buy less in the first place – the obvious next rule is: don’t throw clothes in the bin.

Here we consider five ways of dealing with unwanted clothes: (1) swapping and selling second-hand, (2) donating to charity shops, (3) re-purposing, (4) recycling and (5) retail take-back schemes. We will look at repair and upcyling next month.

1) Swapping and selling second-hand

We looked at swapping last month, as a way of avoiding the purchase of new clothes. At the same time, swapping offers us a way of finding a new home for unwanted items that still have plenty of wear in them.

While local swapping or ‘swishing’ events are on pause due to Covid, you can swap your clothes using online platforms. Websites like Nuw and Swopped enable online clothes swapping, from high street to designer. You earn a token for each item you make available for swapping, which then allows you to choose from hundreds of items. Or, you could consider giving away your clothes through local website Oxford Freegle.

If you prefer the idea of selling your pre-loved clothes for money rather than swap tokens, there are also plenty of online peer-to-peer platforms. Last month we listed Loopster, Depop, Re-fashion, Thrift Plus, Vinted, Build a Bundle and ebay. Others include Vestiaire Collective (designer clothes and handbags), hewi (Hardly ever worn it, “pre-owned luxury fashion”), and We Are Cow (“big brands, one of a kind vintage and handmade rework garments”).

2) Donating to charity shops

For many of us, the default solution will be the local charity shop. However, lockdown decluttering has led to charity shops being overwhelmed with donations.

So consider the alternatives, and if you do donate, do it properly. Make sure to wash and clean items, and repair any broken buttons and zips (more on repair next month). Always consider: ‘Would someone I know want to buy this?’

If you’re looking for a local charity shop to donate, Oxford’s Daily Info has a helpful directory of “Vintage, Charity and Fair Trade shops” (do check with individual shops in case of Covid restrictions).

Or you could use a service like iCollectClothes – an online service that arranges door-step pick up of clothes for charity. Again, items have to be clean and suitable for re-use.

3) Repurposing

What if your clothes are too worn or otherwise unsuitable for donating, reselling or swapping? One solution is to consider if they can be repurposed in some way. The obvious home repurposing is to make rags which can be used as alternative to paper towels or disposable cloths.

Or you could get creative – there are lots fun and useful ways you can transform old clothes, like making your own reusable facemask or a tote bag from an old top. Lots more fun tips are available on the ‘Love your clothes’ website (and more on ‘upcycling’ next month).

You can also let others do the repurposing for you by taking your clothes for ‘recycling’ – see below:

4) Recycling

If you can’t find a new home for your clothes, you can take them to one of the many ‘Bring Banks’ across Oxford, run by Oxford City Council. In Jericho and North Oxford, these are at the East end of Cardigan Street; and at the Ferry Leisure Centre. Clothes and other textiles can also be taken to Redbridge Household Waste Recycling Centre for recycling.

These textiles are then handed on to ‘recycling agents’, companies that process clothes for ‘re-wear’ worldwide, and for recycling – i.e. incorporating textiles into other products such as mattresses and insulation. A small percentage may end up as ‘rags’ and/ or be sent to processing for energy from waste. Typically (according to information provided by Oxford City Council) very little or nothing ends up in landfill.

5) Retail take-back schemes

Finally, some retailers like John Lewis and M&S have introduced ‘take-back’ schemes. Both the John Lewis scheme and M&S’s ‘shwopping’ campaign are currently suspended during Covid, but M&S says there will be more information in the coming weeks about resuming the campaign. The shwopping campaign lets customers donate unwanted clothes items of any brand or condition at main stores (Queen Street in Oxford), which are then “sent to Oxfam to be resold in one of its shops or online, to be reused via its social enterprise in Senegal or to be recycled into new materials, which are used by businesses such as M&S’s mattress filling.”

Next month …

And before you clear out all your unwanted clothes, why not wait for next month’s instalment when we’ll be taking a look at repair and upcycling?