A place to recycle old textiles?

blue jean fabric closeupErin emails:

I know plenty of places where I can donate clothes that are still wearable, but what can I do with the ripped, stained, ratty stuff? I know its possible to recycle textiles, but I don't know where or by whom. Any ideas? Please and thank you!

This is one of those questions that never occurred to us before, but we have heard of stuff being made from, say, old jeans. So we're curious to see if there's a place that does this.

Got a suggestion for Erin? Please share!


This was pretty easy to google. Other towns may do this too, but for anyone who lives in Albany this is seems convenient enough to quit after the first hit. http://www.townofbethlehem.org/531/TextilesClothing-and-Footwear-Recycling

Textiles can be recycled very easily at the clothing collection bins you see all around town. DEC's website is a great source of information.


Textile Reuse and Recycling
New York State residents and businesses donate used clothing to charitable organizations.

That is great! But do you know that every year New York State residents and businesses throw away almost 1.4 billion pounds of usable and recyclable textiles, including: clothing, footwear, belts, hats, handbags, throw rugs, drapes, towels, sheets and other linens.

The potential market value of all these materials is almost $210,000,000

Did you know donations in any condition are welcomed by for-profit and non-profit textile collectors? This includes items with stains, rips, missing buttons or broken zippers.

Textiles are a valuable commodity! Items that don't sell in a thrift store are baled and sold to brokers or graders who sell to overseas markets. In developing nations, used clothing and textiles supply local enterprises with materials to repair and resell.

What Can I Donate?
It is estimated that 95% of all used clothing, footwear and other cloth household products such as sheets, towels, curtains, and pillowcases can be recycled.

Even if items are torn... stained... are missing buttons... have broken zippers, etc., they can still be recycled. As long as the items are dry and oil/grease and odor-free (not stained with solvents such as gasoline) they can be recycled.

Items can be any style, age or condition (even stained and torn items, but remember they need to be dry):

Clothing: Shirts, pants, jackets, suits, hats, belts, ties, gloves, scarves, socks (even single ones) undergarments, handbags and backpacks.

Footwear: Shoes, sandals, sneakers, cleats, boots, flip-flops, and slippers

Household textiles: Curtains, drapes, sheets, blankets, comforters, towels, table linens, throw rugs, pillows, stuffed dolls and animals.

Why Should I Donate These Items?
There are environmental benefits:

Textile recycling:
Decreases the amount of trash we bury in landfills (saving landfill space.);
Reduces greenhouse gases;
Saves natural resources, including water and petroleum; and
Reduces toxins. Cotton is the most pesticide-dependent crop in the world.
There are economic benefits:
Textile recycling creates jobs!

The number of jobs that would be created statewide if each NY resident recycled one additional pound of textiles per week is over 6,700!
Keeping used textiles out of the trash reduces disposal costs for local government, businesses and residents.
More information on textile recycling can be found on the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles website (link leaves DEC's website).

Where Can I Take My Textiles for Reuse and Recycling?
You can bring your reusable and recyclable clothing to:
local charities;
drop-off bins that are located throughout your community;
private clothing recyclers;
local transfer station; and
special textile recycling events.
Call first to make sure they are collecting.

You can also go to the New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse and Recycling (link leaves DEC's website) website for more locations.

What Happens to the Textiles?
Nearly 100% of donated textiles are reused and recycled!
45% are reused as clothing
20% are recycled into fibers
30% are reused as wiping cloths
What Can't I Donate?
No rugs, carpeting or items stained with blood or grease/oil or items that are moldy.

This is such a great question. Textiles, particularly natural fibers, can be recycled into industrial-use felts (actually called "shoddy"), but I don't know how and where to donate my cotton socks with holes or stained t-shirts. (I only need so many cleaning rags!) Too bad we don't have 19th century "rag pickers" to collect this stuff and move it on into the recycling stream. Maybe twice a year the city could do a textile drop-off day the way it does electronic drop off days. Given that it's likely that we Albany city residents will eventually have to pay for our trash pick up, we need more aggressive recycling options.

Most of the 'donate clothing bins' if you read the fine print actually turn clothes into fill for various projects. I bring our old tattered things there so they are not just in a landfill, but in projects that need that sort of filler.

Not sure how/where they collect fabrics, but makers of fine papers for stationery and for US currency, such as Crane and Eaton (both over in the Berkshires) use cotton and linen "rag" for the fiber content of their papers.

The Capital City Rescue Mission: "All out of season and old/stained clothing will be baled for Mission income. All clothing is given to the needy in our community without charge."

Donate your 'clean' old clothing items, including damaged or stained clothes to local thrift or missions. They will sell the items that they cannot use to rag merchants who then sells the items to a variety of other companies including those that create industrial rag. This is the best way to help your local thrift make a buck or two while keeping items out of the landfills. Never be embarrassed to donate your used garments.

Any fabric scraps or textiles like you mentioned I send in for my children's art teacher. She can't get enough, and sometimes I see an old t-shirt that belonged to one of my kids come home in new form, as an art class project!

H&M recycles old clothing (and it doesn't have to be their brand). Simply bring items for recycling to their sales counter in a plastic bag, and they will give you a coupon for 15% off your next purchase in return.

Thanks for all the great advice on this. I can clean my sock drawer and get rid of my single socks now.

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