For the longest time I thought I was pretty clever in that I recycled clothing that was beyond repair–and beyond being suitable for donation–into cleaning rags. Then I found out from my mother, who also recycles clothing into rags, that she knew of a local group of knitters who recycled sweaters into yarn for them to use. That is, they take 100 percent wool sweaters and unravel them, thread by thread, and then reuse those threads to knit and crochet new items. (Her local knitting group is called the Happy Hookers, which if you Google the term, along with the word “knit,” you actually find other knitting groups around the country–and not websites that are inappropriate for children.)
I got to thinking about these clever ladies who get new yarn out of old sweaters when the following reader posted this question:
Q: We’ve recycled down to the point of having clothes that are beyond being clothes. We have more rags than we can handle. Is there a place to recycle the fabric? Aren’t they using fibers for different products? I did some research but I don’t have the correct words to find anything.
A: In doing some research to answer your question, I’ve found lots of people who might be able to take those old clothes off your hands and reuse or recycle them.
For example, did you realize that cotton rag rugs that you can find in craft stores are often made from rags–thus the name? These literally are other people’s clothing or rags that have become useless, so craftspeople weave them into rag rugs. (Check out this homemade loom for making rag rugs on Crafty Daisies, which I found when searching Technorati for blogs on knitting, crocheting and reusing clothing.) Maybe you want to do a Technorati search as well to see if there are other resources for giving away your rags instead of throwing them away?
Another thing you might want to try is putting out a Freecycle “offer” message. There could be someone on your Freecycle list who makes rag rugs, turns t-shirts into stationery or needs these rags for some other reason.
Have you checked in with your local animal shelter or SPCA? I know that many animal rescue organizations take donations of used sheets and towels. Chances are they’ll take used rags (clean ones, of course) as well, as this California message board seems to suggest. The Animal Protection Association in Indiana lists rags as one of its always-in-need donations as does the Page County Animal Shelter in Virginia (via its webpage on Petfinder).
The Sample Waste Initiative for Furniture and Textiles (SWIFT) Project, along with Quilts for Kids, has started a fabric recycling program so that discarded fabric from manufacturers can be reused to make quilts, wheelchair bags and other items for kids in need (so says a Furniture Today article). Some stores in Texas are participating, including Ashley stores and Rooms to Go. Do you have any of these stores near you? If so, why not call to find out if they would accept your rags as part of their fabric recycling.
I’m sure you’ve seen those clothing collection dumpsters in store parking lots and probably didn’t want to put anything beyond wear in one of them. That’s probably a good idea unless you happen to find a dumpster for the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. This organization takes clothing of any condition–even the threadbare, can’t-be-worn-again kind–and participates in what’s called “textile recycling.” In essence it will turn your worn-out clothing into rags, then sell it for a profit to exporters that send it overseas for reuse there.
Finally, your state’s Department of Environmental Protection or Environmental Quality may have on its website a list of local recyclers, including those that take “textiles” (as used fabric is called). For example, here is a resource list from the Maryland Department of Environmental Protection on how residents can recycle textiles.
Hope that helps. Readers, if you have other suggestions for recycling clothing beyond cleaning rags, please post a comment to share your ideas.