I send gently used clothing to the Salvation Army, but some things are just no longer wearable. What can I do?
-Helen M., Philadelphia, PA
There are plenty of ways to give your old clothing a second life if it’s too worn for the closet. Many textiles can be recovered and have their fibers broken down into insulation material, carpet padding, paper, yarn, and more. In fact, according to the EPA, roughly 14.4 percent of textiles from clothing were recovered for export or reprocessing in 2012.
Companies such as American Textile Recycling Services collect donations at drop-off locations and sort out too-worn clothing and other textiles for recycling. Participating Goodwill locations can also make use of clothing too damaged for them to sell, whether by selling it to salvage brokers or making it into industrial wipes. The Council for Textile Recycling maintains a clothing recycling locator that you can use to find facilities in your area.
No recycling options available near you? You can make use of the clothes closer to home. Salvage what fabric you can for craft projects, or cut the clothing down into your own reusable cleaning cloths. See if local schools need rags for art or shop classes, or if animal shelters can use the fabric for cleaning or as bedding. Cotton and other natural-fiber clothing can even be composted as long as they are not blended with synthetic fibers like polyester; make sure to shred it finely and remove attachments like zippers and buttons.