Recycle Textiles – How Should I Throw Away my Old Clothes

Climate and environment blog

How to throw clothes? Yes, it is a really tricky question – and something that most of us are very confused about.

Let’s get to the bottom of the question:.

First of all, let’s state the following:

Almost no clothes are recycled today for new clothes.

As simple as that. And those who mean something else, they are wrong!

Why is it so difficult to recycle clothes?

Textiles are a fairly complex product: often the garments contain several different materials. For example, a regular stocking may consist of 80% cotton, 18% polyamide and 2% elastane.

Difficult to separate materials

To make a new garment of an old one, the different materials need to be separated and then recycled. And picking out the polyamide and elastane from the cotton in the stocking example goes without saying: it’s smart.

Recycling something is about breaking down to fiber level and then rebuilding, which means that that cotton fiber will be a little shorter in the recycled version than it is brand new – and generally one can say that the shorter a fiber, the worse it will hold. .

An area that is very much researched

However, textile and fiber recycling is an area that is being researched incredibly well at the moment – and great progress is being made! But to a large extent we can recycle our clothes into new clothes in a cost- and energy-efficient way – yes, that’s a good way to go!

What is the difference between reusing and recycling?

So when the big clothing stores (and everyone else) today talk about “reusing” and “recycling”, they really mean “reuse. And it is important to keep track of the difference between these words (which unfortunately many easily mix up)

For example, H&M mentions its collection program with the heading “Recycle your clothes” – but is then very clear that it is just about reusing.

It is said that less than 1% of all collected textile today becomes new textile in the form of recycling (ie where the fabric is broken down to fiber level and then “rebuilt” into a new fabric). Instead, they are just different forms of reuse: second hand or as, for example, insulation materials and padding for the industry.

Recycle as much as you can!

Everything that can be used again should, of course, be done: give it to second hand so that it can be sold again. Direct up a change of clothes or give away to friends. Stuff that has a stain or just a little broken: Be creative. Repair and sew again!

Extending the life of the garments already produced is by far the most environmentally smart we can do. But of course: sometimes we all have to throw things! Worn out socks or t-shirt that really can not be saved anymore. And how do you do then?

The municipality is responsible for textile waste in some parts

The municipality is the one responsible for collecting textiles in some parts of Europe today. And that means that depending on where you live determines how to throw clothes and fabric. In some municipalities, you are asked to put textiles in combustible, and in other municipalities, it is collected separately.

Many municipalities have collections at the Recycling Center, and another part also collaborates with voluntary organizations that collect both textiles and textile waste at the recycling stations.

Ask your municipality to know what applies!

See what applies to your municipality on the municipality’s website with information on waste management. If there is no information on textiles, please ask the question directly to the municipality. It is good to note that there is an interest in the matter. That it is important!

Today, it is the municipality’s responsibility to collect textile waste. However, there is no national legal requirement in Sweden to collect textile waste separately from other waste – yet (that is why you are asked in some places to put it in combustible, as the least bad alternative!)

Textile waste – new directives are on the way

However, a separate collection will be introduced shortly. Namely, the new EU Waste Directive requires separate collection of textile waste by 2025.

So what one can say anyway is: a lot is happening in this area!

The big chains

H&M and several other of our largest chains have so-called collection boxes in their stores. What happens to the stuff you submit here? H&M describes it like this: Recycle your clothes and Åhléns like this: Recycle more.

However, what I want to raise a warning finger for here is: The stores that have collected will usually reimburse you who submit with a discount code on your next purchase. And of course it’s nice that you get something back for your deed. But never see the bag that you left in the box as an alibi to shop lots of new (something that many of the stores would like to apply, and which I sometimes interpret as clean and cut greenwashing)

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