Recycling clothing in sustainable fashion

Most of the textiles used in garments are 100% recyclable, however, why don’t we recycle more of our clothes, thus contributing to sustainable fashion in the framework of a circular economy? Find out  all about recycling clothes in this Evlox blog article.

Why it is important to recycle clothes for a sustainable fashion

It is estimated that clothing consumption will increase by 63% in 2030, although we use only 30% of the clothes in our closets. In countries such as the United States, only 15% of discarded clothing is recycled, and on average, a single person gets rid of more than 30 kg of clothing per year that ends up in landfills. In Spain, only about 8% is recycled, while in the United Kingdom and France 33% and 50% are recycled respectively. Countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands are more advanced in the field of sustainability in general and sustainable fashion in particular (source: Ebeca.org). Others are still too far away from this scenario, such as Mexico, where only 0.5% of what is consumed is recycled (source: América Retail).

The vast majority of our clothing is made of four materials: cotton, wool, silk or synthetic fibers. While the first three are natural fibers, the fourth is a petroleum derivative. But regardless of this, the manufacture of clothing is harmful to the environment, from the production of dyes, to the wear and tear of fabrics (e.g. denim), to mercerization (which gives a shiny finish).

The synthetic fibers (nylon, perle, lycra, etc.) manufacturing process damages the atmosphere, due to the chemical elements involved in the extraction and treatment of oil. Another added problem is that manufacturing them in excess leads to the depletion of this resource.

For all these reasons, it is necessary to raise public awareness of the importance of reusing clothes, in order to contribute to reducing the environmental footprint of the textile industry, avoiding complex industrial processes, saving water and energy, reducing the amount of waste… and, in short, to contribute to sustainable fashion.

Benefits of recycling clothing

Reusing and recycling clothes helps conserve natural resources, reduce pollution and keep waste out of landfills. Every garment saved is good for our planet. In order to achieve more sustainable fashion, recycling is a great option.

According to Oxfam Intermón, a non-governmental development cooperation organization, these are some of the benefits of recycling clothing:

  • It saves water and reduces wastewater discharges: reusing a single T-shirt instead of buying a new one saves approximately 5000 liters of water. In addition, textile production generates a high volume of wastewater, which not only means higher water consumption but also the risk of contamination. Recycling significantly reduces the amount of chemicals that pollute streams and rivers.
  • It reduces waste: recycling reduces waste, thus reducing emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
  • It reduces gas emissions into the atmosphere: reducing the production of clothing reduces the greenhouse gasses it causes, which are the main cause of global warming (CO2 emissions).
  • It reduces the use of fertilizers and chemicals: recycling implies a reduction in the use of chemicals and fertilizers which, when used in large quantities, cause serious environmental damage.
  • It reduces over-cultivation and excessive production: buying clothes that we do not need encourages the cultivation of materials such as cotton, linen, etc., and the excessive use of soils. Moreover, in the case of fibers obtained from animals, such as wool, these can be subjected to mistreatment and even genetic alterations to ensure higher production (Source: Oxfam Intermón).

On a large scale, and as News in America points out, increasing the useful life of a garment by at least 9 months reduces pollution by 20% to 30% compared to buying a new garment. Likewise, if everyone bought second-hand clothes instead of new ones for one year, the energy reduction would be equivalent to the electricity consumed by 32 million homes per year.

Recycling Clothing for sustainable fashion | Photo Sarah Brown

Recycling clothing for sustainable fashion

Simple ideas for recycling clothes

Recycling our clothes at home does not have to be complicated or require sewing knowledge.  The sustainability community La Casa Atelier provides easy tips for clothing recycling with no sewing as well as many more ideas:

  • Turn long pants into shorts. 
  • Cut the sleeves off a shirt, T-shirt or jacket. 
  • Cut the sleeves off a sweater and turn it into a vest. 
  • Transform a dress or a long skirt into midy or mini skirt (you can finish with special textile glue for hems).
  • Create a print on a garment with bleach. 
  • Dye a garment or footwear.
  • Decorate a garment with textile paint. 
  • Decorate a garment with patches (you only need an iron). 
  • Change buttons.
  • Use thermo-adhesive elbow patches to create a drawing.

Initiatives that promote the recycling of clothes

Nowadays, there are many initiatives that promote the recycling of clothes. One of the most successful is the selective collection of garments carried out by Humana, through more than 5,000 containers in Spain. In 2021 it recovered 18,313 tons of used clothing, which is 12.5% more than in the previous year. The tons recovered are equivalent to 74 million garments (Source: iambiente.es platform).

New Law on Waste and Contaminated Soils

The recent Law 07/22 on Waste and Contaminated Soils for a Circular Economy determines that the selective collection of textile waste will be mandatory in all municipalities in Spain by December 31, 2024. This local competence will be supported by the implementation of different figures of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). In addition, this regulation constrains municipalities to reduce the amount of municipal waste going to landfill. In our blog you can read all about this new law on waste in one of our previous articles

A documentary on the benefits of used clothing and sustainable fashion

Finally, we recommend watching the two-part documentary: The Environmental Impact of  Secondhand Clothing & The Life Cycle of Second-hand Clothing by Garson & Shaw  that aims to show the benefits of used clothing in relation to environmental care, as well as the advantages for the local economy of each country. 

They are two films that, through different voices of the second-hand clothing industry, promote used clothing. The two videos have been available since last Friday, April 28th on Garson & Shaw’s channel.

Follow us on our blog and social networks to get more info about sustainable and ethical fashion, or visit our website to learn more about our commitment to sustainability in general… and sustainable fashion and denim in particular.