Fashion landfill is a big problem. In 2018, 17 million tons of textile waste ended up in landfills. But you know this.
The question is: how can we stop this from happening? What else can we do with old fashion waste?
I’m here to let you in on a little-known secret… as well as reducing, reusing, and recycling, composting is another option for reducing fashion landfill. That’s right. Composting old clothes.
I’m going to guide you through exactly what clothes you can compost, and how to do it. So next time you’re about to throw away an old t-shirt, you can consider composting it instead.
How to reduce fashion landfill: the basics
The main things you can do to lower the amount of fashion landfill you produce are:
- Reuse (upcycling, donating, rehousing)
Reduce the number of new clothes you buy. You can do this by buying better quality clothes that last longer and shopping second-hand when you really need something ‘new’.
You can reuse the clothes you do have by using the material to make something new (like a pillowcase or hair scrunchies). You can donate the clothes to charity so someone else can use it or offer them out to your friends!
If your garments are too old or tatty to be reused, you can recycle them. Certain brands like Patagonia and Zara will take their own clothes back for recycling, while others like H&M will accept any brand of clothes.
There are also loads of smaller collection and drop-off services for old clothes. But let’s be honest, you know most of these things already.
What I really want to talk about is composting
Composting doesn’t make it to most guides on how to reduce fashion landfill, but if you’ve exhausted the other options, you should always consider composting your old clothes before subjecting them to landfill.
How to reduce fashion landfill by composting
Everyone’s heard of composting. You may even have a compost bin in your backyard.
But most people assume only food can go in a compost bin.
This isn’t the case – you can compost ANYTHING that was once living.
Paper is made from trees. Trees are living things, therefore, you can compost paper (mostly).
In the same vein, some clothes are made from cotton. Cotton plants are living things, and therefore, you can compost cotton clothes.
What clothes can I compost?
Sadly not all textiles are suitable for composting. For example, polyester is a synthetic material and won’t break down in a compost bin. The clothes have to be 100% natural.
Cotton, bamboo, hemp, silk, linen, and wool are common natural materials.
You should also approach clothes with big ‘stuck-on’ prints with caution. These prints are likely made from synthetic materials.
Lastly, clothes that you’ve used for cleaning or painting (or that are stained with chemicals) aren’t suitable for the compost pile. You don’t want to transfer those chemicals into the ground.
When you’re next out looking for new clothes, pay attention to the materials being used. Purposefully look for something made from natural materials so you know when the item reaches the end of its life, you can compost it and save it from the fashion landfill.
Tips for composting clothes
Once you have a piece of clothing that’s suitable for composting, here’s what to do:
- Remove any non-compostable parts of the clothes. This includes things like zips, buttons, labels, and stitching. Most stitching is a cotton-polyester blend. If you prefer, you can leave the stitching and pick it out of your compost later.
- Cut the clothes up into smaller bits of fabric. Smaller pieces of material will decompose much faster than a whole garment.
- Add the clothes to your compost pile. Add small amounts at a time and bury them in the middle of your pile. Water the pile if it feels dry.
- Carry on adding food/garden waste as normal. Turn the pile every so often and eventually the clothes will disappear.
Once the compost is finished, you can use it in your yard as fertilizer. Fertilizer from clothes! So much better than adding to the ever-growing fashion landfill problem.
If you have a worm bin you can also put the clothes in there. The worms will work away at it. Old clothes also make great worm blankets (to keep your bin cool and moist).
By Veronica from Yuzu Magazine