where to recycle your clothes and shoes in australia
If you’ve got damaged clothes, textiles or shoes that aren’t quite right for donating, you might like to drop them off at one of the services below.
We can recycle cardboard, glass, tyres and e-waste, yet recycling our clothes and shoes isn’t so clear-cut. Why? Like fixing an old car, you’ve got to take a used t-shirt apart before you can put it back together.
Most clothes and shoes made today contain blended fibres, and these have to be extracted from one another before being recycled. It’s a complex and expensive break-up – one that most brands don’t know how to mediate. To make matters worse, textile recycling is still in its infancy in Australia and there are no commercial textile recyclers here. Unfortunately for our pale blue dot, it’s cheaper to send used clothes to landfill and make new items from virgin materials. So we do. Meanwhile, most items end up in charity bins, in the ground, or sold into secondhand markets overseas. These clothes and shoes are piling up (or tumbling down, depending on where you look). And there’s a not-so-small feeling that this might all catch up with us someday.
This systemic waste is a lot for any one brand, charity or person to take on. But change is afoot. Many Australian entities are offering new ways for you to divert your clothes, textiles and shoes from landfill for longer, with some even offering recycling program pilots. If you’ve got damaged clothes, textiles or shoes that aren’t quite right for donating, you might like to drop them off at one of the services below. If you can, wash your items before donating.
ANIMAL SHELTERS (Australia-wide). Animal shelters including RSPCA are often in need of used sheets, towels and blankets for their animals. Many also have op shops, which redirect low-grade fabrics to companies that make cleaning rags.
ASGA SAVE OUR SOLES (Victoria). This pilot program offers a new life for your pre-loved soles. ASGA takes your used sneakers, thongs, and footy boots and extracts the rubber, leather and fibres, using them to manufacture new materials like gym mats, floors and playgrounds. How neat. Collection sites are across Victoria, with more planned Australia-wide.
BOOMERANG BAGS (Worldwide). Boomerang Bags' communities transform your leftover quilting fabric, doona covers and pillowcases into reusable bags. They then distribute these bags locally – to schools, businesses, events and more. There are over 500 BB communities in Australia (and 1140 worldwide!). Find one near you to start donating (or, if you are so inclined, start your own community).
COMPOST. You heard that right. You can compost your own clothes if they’re made purely of biodegradable materials – including linen, silk, cotton, cashmere, bamboo and wool. Shred or cut your fabrics into smaller pieces, remove anything that won’t biodegrade (tags, buttons and zippers) and use a hot compost with worms to speed up the breakdown. Time to dig up that wool sweater that shrunk in the wash.
COUNCILS. Councils are cottoning on to the need to incorporate textile recycling in their waste management systems. Bathurst Regional Council recently trialled a clothing recycling program to great success. This is on the agenda for many councils across Australia, and your voice has sway in spurring it on. If you feel passionately about the issue, write to your council and advocate for textile and shoe recycling options at your local tip.
FIBRE ECONOMY (Australia-wide). Workwear and uniforms make up a huge chunk of textile waste in Australia. Circular social enterprise Fibre Economy is tackling this head-on. They divert mining uniforms from landfill by redistributing them to people who will use them – from apprentices to fashion students. They accept workwear that’s branded or unbranded, and give it a second life.
CIRCULAR CENTRE (Australia-wide). If you run a clothing label or are part of a community group looking to divert textile waste, Circular Centre may be able to repurpose your used clothes and textiles. Its Circular Textile Waste Service accepts a minimum quantity of 120kg of unwearable textiles including clothes, uniforms, workwear and bed linen. They’ve also recently paired with General Pants to run the Circular Denim Redesign Project. Designers and students are invited to take denim that’s been donated at General Pants’ stores, get inspired, and repurpose it into a new design.
RECYCLESMART (New South Wales). This logistics company partners with NSW councils to make donating your clothes as easy as online impulse buying at 1 am on a Tuesday. If you’re in a participating council, download their app and book a Power Pickup to have your clothes collected. RecycleSmart told frankie that these items are then taken to charity stores for resale, or to partners Sheridan and H&M to be sorted for resale or recycling.
SHERIDAN (Australia-wide). Sheridan accepts your old sheets and towels for recycling. They have a partnership with an Australian company that sends these textiles overseas to be made into recycled yarn and turned into new products.
SCR GROUP (Australia-wide). SCRGroup diverts around 18 million tonnes of clothing from domestic landfill each year by selling them to international markets. About 30 per cent of what they collect is damaged beyond repair. They downcycle this into wiper rags or convert it into biofuel, which is used as an alternative to coal.
TOTALLY WORKWEAR (Participating stores Australia-wide). The Totally Workwear Boot Recycling Program loves your smelly old workboots. TW sends them to a Melbourne warehouse where the rubber and steel are disassembled before being broken down for use in new products like rubber floormats, playgrounds and more. To kick it off, ring up your local TW store and check if they are taking part.
UPPAREL (Australia-wide). We’ve all done a big Kondo cleanout only for our bags of garb to sit in the car boot or hallway for months. Upparel cuts out your trip to the charity store. For a fee, they’ll collect your used clothes, hats, bags and more, right from your door. Most of what they receive goes to charity stores, while around a third is sent overseas for upcycling or recycling. They’ll also give you a store credit to buy some socks. Happy tootsies, happy life.
WORN UP (Australia-wide). Worn Up accepts towels, sheets, non-wearable uniforms and deadstock from businesses, schools and sports associations. These are turned into new products like dog beds, school desks and tiles. Drop off your items at approved Australia Post locations across Australia.