Charitable organisations have been recycling clothing for over 100 years. Reusing and recycling clothing saves natural resources, reduces pollution and waste, and helps people in need - or even those just looking for funky threads.

Clothes includes:

Jumpers & Jackets Pants & shorts Socks & Underwear Textiles T-shirts & Shirts Uniforms

Why recycle

Re-using or recycling clothing has numerous benefits, including:

  • Saving water, especially because less new cotton or wool has to be grow,
  • Reducing pollution, especially from reduced use of wool-cleaning chemicals and fabric dyes,
  • Reducing resource use, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from reduced manufacturing of virgin materials, and
  • Providing affordable clothing for needy families and individuals.

Recycling Options

Good-quality used clothes can be donated to charitable organisations that will resell and/or redistribute them, or to commercial operators. Many large charities have clothing collection bins in public locations. Most charities will also accept donations of clothes at their retail outlets, and some may arrange pick-up services.

Retailers and wholesalers
Fashion retailers or wholesalers can donate brand-new clothing to Thread TogetherOne third of new clothing goes from factory to landfill. Thread Together saves new clothing from landfill by passing it on to those in need.

Old work uniforms
Loop Recycling works with companies to develop unique and innovative programs to deal with old uniforms – diverting them from landfills and upcycling them into new, useful products, such as tote bags, duffle bags, hats, and backpacks.

Australian businesses have a responsibility to take ownership of the textile waste that is produced as a result of corporate uniforms and workwear. We encourage all businesses – large and small – to put in place a uniform recycling program. Businesses can contact Total Uniform Solutions for more information.

School uniforms
The Uniform Exchange has provided a second life for thousands of school uniforms. The website provides the community with a free platform to sell, buy or donate second-hand school uniforms for every school in Australia.

Schools with large quantities of uniforms can contact sustainable start-up Worn Up which offers to collect this textile waste and transform it into new products such as  desks that can be used again by students.

What happens when it's recycled?

Good quality clothes are resold by charities in their retail outlets for fundraising purposes, or they may be given to disadvantaged people.

Some charities will recycle clothes which are in poor condition into industrial rags, sound-absorption materials, insulation or stuffing. Not all clothes are suitable for rag-making, however. Ideally, the types of items that are suitable for remanufacture into industrial rags should be:

  • Clean - no dirt, oil, grease, paint, blood
  • Absorbent materials only - no denim
  • Suitable size: minimum cut size for rags is 400mm square... Children's clothing is usually too small
  • Preferable items include T Shirts, towels, flannelette, sheets - especially white materials.

Any items which do not meet the above criteria should not be placed in charity bins, as they will be landfilled by the charity which then incurs the landfill cost. Some clothing (preferably natural fibres) can be used for weed matting - a community garden or Landcare / Bushcare may be interested.

More Info & Sources

Recycling Near You's Reuse Hub – information and tips on how to reuse items, keeping the materials in use for as long as possible at their highest value.

NSW EPA Case Study: Worn Up – discover how school uniform recycler, Worn Up, used a grant from the NSW EPA to increase its outreach to rural schools and businesses.