Reuse and Repurposing of Old Clothes

Tens of millions of tons of old clothes are discarded worldwide each year. In affluent countries, around 5-6% of the municipal solid waste is comprised of used clothes.  Americans discarded 13.1 million tons of textiles in 2010, out of which only 15 percent was recycled, while more than 11 million tons of textiles were dumped in landfills across the country. The situation is no different in the Middle East where huge amount of clothes and other fabrics gets acculumated in our homes each year.

When thrown in communal bins, textile wastes are transported to the landfill site, where it is dumped and buried taking a sizeable area of the landfill space and entailing cost of transportation and handling. Decomposing textiles releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas and a significant contributor to global warming. There are dyes and chemicals in fabric and other components of clothing that can leach into the soil, contaminating both surface and groundwater.

Rash purchases and impulse buying, especially in ‘discount sales,’ are the main reason for un-worn clothing pile up at our homes, which takes up a sizeable portion of our wardrobe storage areas. Another reason of not discarding the clothes is the guilt over wasting money which keeps us from throwing out unwanted clothes. Especially women hoard particular styles of clothes in the hope of a fashion revival.

The first task is to evaluate what we have been wearing and what we will use and what can be discarded. The second task is to see if these clothes can be altered and re-worn by us or our household members. Next task is to see if these clothes can be re-used or re-purposed for other draping like windows, covers, ventilators etc. Finally the option is to donate these textiles to poor people and charity organizations benefiting the community.

We should try to understand that over 70% of the world’s population uses second-hand clothes. Let these clothes find a new face and bring smile on the faces of less-privileged communities. This act of kindness is not only morally pleasing and religiously satisfying but will also depict that we care for waste, community and the environment. Many local charities in the Middle East understand this situation and have placed containers and boxes for collection of used clothes from the community. Kindly look for these in your area or donate your used clothing to people who really need them and can wear them with pride during festivals and other occasions.

If the clothing is not wearable, it can be converted into wipes that can be used around the house to clean up spills, dusting, cleaning your car etc. Worn-out textiles can be collected and reprocessed as fibers which can be used as filler in vehicle seats, upholstery, insulation, wipe clothes and rest can go to the landfill. The clothing materials could also be re-purposed into items such as cloth bags, hats, quilts, etc. based on your creativity and usage. The bottom line is to have a regular clearance of your clothes and check your wardrobe making sure that new purchases are thought out and calculated. 

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About Rehan Ahmad

Rehan Ahmed is currently working as Head of Waste Disposal Unit at Supreme Council for Environment, Kingdom of Bahrain. He has over thirty four years of professional experience on projects related to waste management, recycling, reuse and recovery & environmental impacts assessments. Rehan has been instrumental in construction, development, operation and management of Hafira industrial landfill site and establishment of healthcare waste treatment facility in Bahrain.
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2 Responses to Reuse and Repurposing of Old Clothes

  1. John desa says:

    I enjoy reading your articles on environment and recycling.

  2. Pingback: Waste Management in Sweden: Perspectives

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