Dear Recyclebank: How can I recycle my old blue jeans? –Lauren C.
Dear Lauren: There’s nothing like a perfectly worn pair of jeans … that is, until it gets an un-patchable hole in an awkward spot! While fabric isn’t accepted in curbside recycling containers, the good news is there are plenty of ways to recycle and upcycle your old denim. And being that denim production is a heavy-impact process, it really pays to recycle it.
The most well-known option, of course, is to sell or donate wearable jeans to your nearest thrift store, where your jeans can go on living in someone else’s closet. But if your jeans are ripped or stained beyond repair, don’t try to donate them where they’ll likely just be thrown in the trash.
Instead, find a facility that accepts textiles for recycling. One specifically for denim is Blue Jeans Go Green, which partners with retailers throughout the year to put on denim-reclamation events (often donating your jeans will net you a shopping coupon). They also accept denim donations by mail (shipping is at your expense). The denim is turned into insulation, which is then donated to Habitat for Humanity-affiliated projects as well as civic-building projects. The organization estimates it has diverted more than 1 million pieces of denim clothing away from landfills.
Another easy option for denim recycling is through one of the biggest manufacturer’s of denim — Levi Strauss and Company. You can now drop off your unwanted denim, and any other clothing and shoes, to any Levi’s store. Levi’s partners with I:CO, which specializes in clothing reuse and recycling, to ensure that the textiles stay out of landfills.
There are many other interesting textiles and denim-recycling programs, such as the recycling program of Nudie Jeans, which turns old denim into new objects, from rag rugs to stylish hats. And the Denim Project upcycles denim into new goods (like aprons and woven baskets) while creating jobs and empowering women, although they currently aren’t accepting jeans because they’ve received so many donations already. However, you can take a page out of their book and keep your old denim to use as material for your own cool craft projects. There are so many fun upcycling projects to do with denim; your favorite pair of jeans could soon become a cute headband, a hip bag, or a charming patchwork rug!