We all know that the most sustainable clothing option is to keep wearing what we have. However, sometimes you need something new. Perhaps an article of clothing no longer fits, is worn out, or… lets be honest, is hopelessly out of fashion. The tendency for a lot of us is to throw a bunch of stuff that we no longer wear into a garbage bag and haul it off to the Salvation Army or Goodwill, and then head off to the mall (tell me you grew up in the 90’s without telling me you grew up in the 90’s) or our favorite online shopping haunt. We feel both virtuous that we have cleaned out our closets, and proud that we have donated clothing.
But what if donating used clothes is not all that its cracked up to be? And what if the way we have all been taught to donate clothing is not only unhelpful, but in some cases actually harmful and counterproductive? Often, organizations like Goodwill and the Salvation are treated almost like dump sites, where people leave items that are damaged, stained, or worn out, and have to be immediately disposed. In addition, because Americans buy a lot of clothes that they only wear once or twice, these organizations are overwhelmed with inventory, and end up sending donations overseas where sometimes it is sold, but more often than not, it ends up in a landfill.
So you might be thinking: “great, yet another thing I thought was helpful that turns out is counterproductive. So should I just throw my old clothing right into the landfill and eliminate the middle man?!” Not so fast. In a prior blog post, we discussed some opportunities to resell your clothes. But if you don’t have the time to see if someone will actually bid on your old jeans on Poshmark, and you are not in the mood to be judged by some very cool Gen Z’er when you bring in a bag of items to Crossroads, there is another option.
Some mainstream apparel companies have started offering clothing recycling programs, where the clothing is…. actually recycled. Sustainimals founder Julia here – hi! So, in addition to running Sustainimals, I am a yoga instructor. I have been practicing yoga since… well, that doesn’t matter, but for a long time. So long, that I used to wear bootcut, low-rise yoga pants (which are apparently cool again??). So imagine my excitement when I learned that lululemon will buy back your used yoga pants!?!? Currently the lulu “Like New” program is only available in Texas and California, so when I was visiting family earlier this summer, I packed up a bag full of yoga pants, some of which were…. well, again, it doesn’t matter exactly how old they were but lets just say that one pair was faux denim. Sigh. Lulu bought back my whole bag of pants and tops – they will either be professionally cleaned and resold, or will be recycled through their partnership with Debrand, a reverse logistics company.
So you might be thinking: “great, but I don’t do yoga, I hate yoga, and I have never owned a pair of lululemon pants in my life. I also don’t live in California or Texas. Tell me where I can actually recycle things that my family actually owns, like jeans and tshirts.” Well, ask and you shall receive!
Marine Layer – has a t-shirt recycling program, where you can drop off or send in your old t-shirts and you will receive $5 per shirt donated, up to $25 (you can drop off as many t-shirts as you want, but you won’t receive more than $25). The shirts do not have to be Marine Layer! They can be any kind of t-shirt (except activewear). If you don’t live near a Marine Layer, you can go online and request a prepaid mailer. In the words of the Barefoot Contessa – how easy is that? Marine Layer uses your old t-shirts to make their ReSpun line, in which all products are made from 30% - 100% recycled materials.
Rag & Bone, Madewell, and Levi's – all of these brands are part of Cotton’s “Blue Jeans Go Green” Recycling Program, where donated fabric is recycled into building insulation for housing, libraries, hospitals, and schools. For Rag & Bone, drop off denim from any brand at a Rag & Bone Store and receive 20% off your entire denim purchase that day. At Levi's, you can bring in denim from any brand and receive 20% off any one Levi's item. At Madewell, you can bring in denim from any brand and receive $20 off new Madewell jeans.
The North Face - launched its “Clothes the Loop” program in 2013. Simply drop off used clothing and footwear The North Face Retail and Outlet stores, and receive a $10 reward toward a purchase of $100 or more. The North Face sends the items in the collection bins to Soles4Souls, a non-profit organization whose mission is to create sustainable jobs and provide relief through the distribution of shoes and clothing.
Patagonia – given Patagonia’s commitment to environmental activism, it is not surprising that Patagonia has a robust clothing recycling program called “Worn Wear.” You can trade in your used, but functional, Patagonia apparel, either at a Patagonia location or mail them in, and receive a Worn Wear credit up to $100.
The aforementioned brands are just a handful of those that are making efforts to improve sustainability. So before you drop off another garbage bag of clothing to Goodwill, consider looking into whether your favorite brands have recycling programs. It will give you peace of mind to know that your donation is actually being managed responsibly, and you might just wind up with a little extra walking around money!