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what to do when it's time to toss your clothes

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

Author: Sarah Brown 

Not sure what to do with those clothes that are looking worse for wear? Can’t bring yourself to throw them in the trash? Well bare market blogger Sarah explores some more sustainable options.

It doesn’t sound very sustainable, but sometimes your clothing reaches a point where it needs to go. I’m not talking about stuff you no longer want or need that can be taken to the local thrift store or re-sold online. I’m talking about when you’ve worn your tee until it’s more holes than shirt, or when your jeans have been patched so many times it’s unclear if any of the original denim is left. Or, like me, when you notice mid-yoga class that your four-year-old workout leggings are shedding (gasp) microfibers!  

Sometimes you really do need to upgrade, but what should you do with old items when that can’t be repaired or resold?

textile recycling

Textile recycling is the process of turning old clothing, shoes and fabric into new products. The materials are sorted, cleaned and then shredded down for stuffing or fibre recycling and can be repurposed into new fabrics. In Toronto, many clothing collection bins on various street corners throughout the city accept used clothing and fabrics. These items are then sorted, anything that is reusable is sent for resale and the rest is sent for recycling. City Waste Services Canada has an extensive guide to clothing recycling in Toronto.

Often these clothing donation bins are run by charities, including Diabetes Canada. Their Think Recycle program diverts more than 100 million lbs of clothing from landfill each year. This is how I chose to recycle the workout leggings I mentioned earlier. They were beyond hope of repair or resale, so I did my research and discovered a Diabetes Canada clothing bin five-minute’s walk from my house. Too easy!  

Some clothing retailers, like North Face and Patagonia, offer in-store recycling programs. In fact, Patagonia has a really awesome and extensive clothing repair and reuse program which includes options for trading in and purchasing used items.

One important thing to note is that not all textile recycling programs are created equal. Some clothing retailers like H&M and Uniqlo offer in-store recycling programs that make grand claims. However, few clothes are actually recycled and critics say the bins are a greenwashing tactic, when altering fast-fashion production models would be a more sustainable route. If you do use these bins, don’t be suckered into purchasing more fast fashion items while you’re recycling your old ones, it’s an easy trap to fall into! 

Photo by Andrej Lisakov

reuse and repurpose what you can

When you spend time online, it’s easy to believe you need matching, reusable cleaning cloths made from Pinterest-worthy materials to be #sustainable. I’ve been tempted to purchase these many times, but always remind myself that the most eco-friendly option is to simply use what I already have!

Do you know what makes for great sustainable cleaning cloths? Old shirts! And pants and, uh…socks? I haven’t tried that one yet, but I recently repurposed an old Zara t-shirt that was full of holes into a new kitchen cleaning cloth. You can even use bed linens for this. One of my favourite zero-waste Instagrammers even uses an old pillow case as a salad spinner. Yes, you read that correctly.

At the end of the day, it’s all about remembering one of the important R’s: reusing (or upcycling) as many unwearable or unsellable items as possible. Maybe you really know your way around a sewing machine and with a bit of elbow grease could turn an old pair of jeans into a bag?

It’s important that as stewards of the earth, that we're conscious consumers and this includes ensuring that your clothing is responsibly recycled when it’s at the end of its life.


About the author: Originally from sunny Australia, Sarah came to Toronto to experience a Canadian winter (really!). She found bare market via Instagram and was instantly drawn to get involved. She loves farmers’ markets, sustainable fashion, all things package free and is way too excited about Toronto's compost bins!

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