Everything you need to know about recycling your clothes

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Sarah Biddlecombe

We’re all guilty of chucking the odd ripped sock or pair of laddered tights into the bin, but what about a moth-eaten jumper or a pair of damaged-beyond-repair jeans?

With Britain expected to send a nausea-inducing 235 million items of clothing to landfill this spring alone, campaigners are urging us all to start recycling our old clothes rather than throw them away – and for good reason.

Over the last decade, clothing has become the fastest growing stream of waste in the UK, and it now represents the fifth biggest environmental footprint of any industry in the UK.

Plus, the 350,000 tonnes of clothing that go to landfill each year could generate a massive £140 million if they were reused or recycled.

So how can we recycle our old clothes, and what do we need to know before we start spring cleaning our wardrobes?

To answer these all important questions, we looked at the recycling options available on the high street and spoke to Catrin Palfrey, project manager for the Love your Clothes campaign, to find out how we can do more to help at home.

Recycling on the high street

A number of high street retailers are offering in-store initiatives that aim to make recycling even simpler.

world recycle day h&m london


H&M has been offering a garment recycling service since 2013, with every item donated being recycled, reused or re-worn. The fashion giant now collects clothes or textiles in all 4,100 H&M stores worldwide, and aims to be collecting 25,000 tonnes a year by 2020.

Speaking to, Catarina Midby, H&M UK sustainability manager, said, “We are one of the world’s biggest fashion companies and this comes with both responsibility and opportunity as we have a unique reach and possibility to create change that few others have. 

Currently 26% of all H&M products are made using sustainable materials and our goal is to produce 100% of our products using sustainable materials by 2030.”

Marks and Spencer

Since launching their Shwopping initiative in 2008, Marks and Spencer has received over 27 million items of clothing. 

Customers can leave unwanted clothing and soft furnishings in their local store’s ‘Shwop Drop’ box, and these are then passed onto Oxfam to be resold, reused or recycled.

Yesterday the British retailer also launched a new sustainability plan, in which it outlined its aim to have at least 25% of M&S Clothing and Home products made using at least 25% reused or recycled material by 2025.

marks and spencers joanna lumley shwop london


Zara began installing collection bins in its stores across Europe in 2016, and currently has over 500 containers spread across the UK, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden. It is also aiming to have containers installed in all of its stores across China soon.

The clothes left in the containers are donated to charities such as the Red Cross.

& Other Stories

You can swap your unwanted clothes, textiles and beauty packaging in & Other Stories stores in exchange for a 10% ‘recycling treat’ voucher. Not too shabby…

Recycling: your questions answered spoke to Catrin Palfrey, project manager for the Love your Clothes campaign, part of the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP), to find out how we can do more at home, and how taking our unwanted items back to the high street can help.

recycling bin

Where can people in the UK go to recycle their clothes?

“People can donate clothes for reuse and recycling through a number of routes. For example, this could be via charity shops or collection bags from the door step, at a textiles bank at a supermarket or the local Household Waste and Recycling Centre (HWRC).

Some councils will also offer a clothing collection service as part of their recycling collection. The best way to see what to do in your area is use the Love Your Clothes Recycling Locator, where you can pop in your post-code and find out where your nearest textiles bank is.

Or, you could try refashioning or upcycling unwanted items.”

Why is it important to recycle our old clothes rather than throwing them away?

“Globally, the natural resources (e.g. water and petroleum) needed to make products such as clothes are reducing. Repair, reuse and recycling reduces the amount we are sending to landfill, and makes use of resources already available rather than making them from scratch.

Ultimately this means reduced levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere which contribute to climate change. It’s also believed that better reuse and recovery can maximise value, create jobs and build skills.”

Are there any parts of clothing that can’t be recycled, such as zips or buttons?

“European Recycling Company is a SCAP signatory which recycles garments and shoes. Nothing goes to waste: buttons, zips, chains and rivets are all removed and sent for recycling.

Even the dust generated in the process is compressed into blocks and used again in the manufacture of paper, concrete production or utilised as energy.”

Images: iStock / Rex


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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Features Editor at Stylist

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