Tips and advice for recycling old clothes and outdoor gear, keeping those adventures Earth-friendly
At the time of writing, we’re busy clearing out and selling all of our belongings before we leave to cycle the world.
And there’s a lot of stuff to clear out!
With the environmental impact of clothing being so high, and us outdoor lovers getting through a lot of it, we’re always careful to make our gear-cycle as sustainable as possible.
Making responsible consumer choices, opting for sustainable outdoor gear and giving it a good end of life send off (e.g. recycling or repurposing it) really can help to make your outdoor lifestyle all the more eco-friendly.
In this article, we look at the environmental impact of clothing, then share lots of recycling tips for all your outdoor equipment. From good quality items that can be donated or sold to really battered items that can still be given a good purpose.
Plus we’ll look at some tips on how to upcycle and reuse your clothing too!
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The environmental impact of clothing – is it that bad?
To cut to the chase, yes.
The fashion industry and the textile industry, in general, are actually two of the most polluting industries in the world. Fast fashion in particular is responsible for 8-10% of the global carbon emissions. Up to 90% of chemicals used in clothing production are discharged into water systems, causing a host of other environmental implications.
There’s a huge human cost to all of this too.
Because the human and environmental impact of clothing production is so high, lots of research is being done to reduce it. But, personally, we think it’s best to take things into your own hands rather than wait on the folks in charge to make changes.
You can choose clothing with less environmental impact, buy and use second-hand clothing, recycle, repurpose and reuse clothing once you’ve given it a good life. All pretty easy ways to lower your carbon emissions and reduce textile waste.
What about Outdoor Gear? Is recycling outdoor equipment as important?
The adventure community and clothing brands should assume the role of environmental stewards. And many outdoor brands DO take big steps to produce items in a sustainable way, designing them to last and supporting eco-friendly projects.
Unfortunately though, this alone is not enough.
Clothing production will always take its toll, no matter how sustainable it is. Outdoor gear requires particularly heavy-duty materials and environmentally harsh products.
Perfluorinated carbons, or PFCs, the “forever chemicals” which never biodegrade, are present in the waterproof coatings of our jackets, tents and similar waterproof materials like. Synthetic properties like polyester and nylon are challenging to recycle, create microplastics, and use vast amounts of water in the manufacturing process.
Because of all this, as outdoor consumers, it’s also our responsibility to do the right thing and look after this wonderful world. We’re not saying go zero waste – though that would be great – instead, recycling and repurposing efficiently are fairly easy steps that can have a very positive impact.
Right, enough of the why – here’s actually how to recycle outdoor equipment and clothing!
Tips on How to Recycle Old Clothes and Outdoor Gear
For us, we split everything into two groups: gear that’s still usable and gear that can no longer be used for its intended purpose.
Part 1. How to recycle old clothes and equipment that’s still fit for purpose
Doing some outdoor gear repair can enable you to use the item longer, make it easier to sell or just make it a better donation. If it’s still a usable product, some TLC can go a long way.
Things like waterproofing your hiking boots, fixing tears, sealing tents seams etc. can be done at home fairly easily.
Sell Your Gear
As we’re saving for our next big adventure, selling our used outdoor gear is a sweet next step. You can pass on items to other like-minded folk and know it’s all funding the next escapade!
Facebook Marketplace, Facebook groups, eBay and things like Gumtree or Craigslist can be great. Nowadays the selling process is pretty simple and there’s lots of seller protection on eBay, so you can get things photographed, online and sold pretty quickly.
A Note on Facebook groups* Whether you’re selling used backpacking gear, bikepacking gear or climbing swag, you’ll find plenty of Facebook groups for specific outdoor pursuits. If you’re receiving payment online, just be vigilant it’s from a trustworthy person and ask them to pay on Paypal before sending, this way you’re both covered.
Give away or donate outdoor gear
There are a few different options for this.
- Donate to charity shops – lots of charity shops will happily take a whole manner of outdoor clothing and equipment. Just make sure it’s in good condition and fits their requirements
- Donate to clothing charities – you can donate camping gear to homeless charities like the Salvation Army, or it can help support refugees and humanitarian missions.
- Donate to outdoor initiatives – There are lots of organisations that take used items to provide vulnerable communities with outdoor experiences.
- Give to friends/outdoor community – Perhaps your old gear could help your chums or family find a new outdoor passion? Alternately, you could gift it to someone else in the community. It’s always nice is we can pass positivity around.
Part 2. Where can I recycle unwearable clothes and items?
When you’re adventuring hard, even with all the right TLC, gear eventually says goodbye. But it doesn’t mean it has no uses. There are plenty of charities, organisations and services that can do good with it.
Recycling outdoor gear with adventure companies
Lots of outdoor brands and groups will take your unusable products to recycle the materials into new kit. Just make sure you read their recycling page to make sure your stuff fits the criteria.
There are lots of options you can find by Googling donate outdoor gear near me or donate outdoor gear then add your location. These are a few popular ones in the UK and in North America.
- Green Peak Gear
- Cotswold, Runner’s Need and Snow+Rock
- The North Face
- REI Give Back Box
- Scavenger for recycling climbing gear
- Green Guru for recycling cycling gear, like bike inner tubes
- For bike gear, your local workshop will likely take in old bike parts for spares
Recycling clothing at local clothes banks and waste disposal services
By searching recycle old clothes near me OR clothes recycling bins / recycling drop / textile recycling + your location, you should be able to find nearby recycling services.
Looking on your regional council page can also point you in the right direction.
It’s worth mentioning that some of these services might only take wearable items, so check what outdoor equipment can be recycled beforehand.
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With a little creativity, you can also turn bits of battered gear into cool new things. Here are a few ideas on how to upcycle old outdoor gear and how to recycle old clothes at home:
- Turn your old tent fly into a stuff sack or waterproof bag.
- Sew a quilt out of your used sleeping bag.
- Grow plants in your old hiking boots.
- Make a dog leash out of an old climbing rope, or make a rug out of it.
- Cut the old tent floor out of your used tent and use it as a new tent footprint.
- Recycling tent fabric to make a stuff sack
- Also, use an old climbing rope to make a swing or hang a hammock.
- Use an old tent sheet as a lightweight hammocking tarp.
- Use old tent poles for gardening posts by giving your roses or pickles a growing pole.
If your clothes are 100% cotton or wool, you have a chance of composting them. This means you can use a cotton t-shirt or pair of undergarments and put them into the compost bin in your backyard.
The clothing item will be composted and free to use in gardening in a few months. Remember, we can compost only clothes made of 100% cotton and wool. Don’t put any other blends in your compost bin as they can contaminate it!
Recycle for Cleaner Nature
Millions of garments are purchased each year, and an astounding amount of greenhouse gasses are generated through this process. This means that the product manufacturing and transportation of all our clothes and outdoor gear take their toll on our personal carbon emissions and global warming in general.
Upcycling or recycling clothes instead of dooming them to the landfill is easy-peasy but help protect us, nature and all its inhabitants. Hopefully these tips can help you do just that.
Do you have any other recycling tips or ideas to recycle old clothes at home? Let us know in the comments below!