Favourite items that you owned a long time, that you maybe sewed yourself or that were a special gift can grow dear to you.

Then sometimes it becomes hard to part with this fave item.

The imagination, that it ends up next to a banana peel is kinda…let’s say miserable. But wait a minute. There is chance for a new life: As a new garment made of recycled fibre, as fluffy content of a stuffed animal, or as…flooring!

No matter if it is your old fave piece that is due, a garment that doesn’t fit or that you don’t like any more. Did you ever ask yourself, what happens with stuff that you dismiss?

Textiles and shoes that are not collected for recycling for sure end up at the landfill. And with them tons of wasted resources as water and energy, as well as all the chemicals and dye stuff that had been used for its manufacturing.

After all, German households collect 75% of the worn-out clothes yearly. That’s 1,5 billion texitles! That’s more than 12 pieces of clothing per person, in all 750.000 tons, 60.000 truck loads!

Looking at these figures, Germany is the pioneer of recycling. Denmark’s rate is only 50%, the USA a meager 15%.

Those who want to recycle and do good have several options.

Disposal through the respective city litter service:

Some cities in Germany as Cologne and Munich put collection bins all over town.

The average rate of reusable garments is about 50%. This amount is being sold to wholesalers worldwide. Garments that aren’t wearable any more, are being disposed according to the current technical possibilities. 20% are downcycled to cleaning cloths, 20% are used for further processing as recycling products (e.g. insulation) or as a substitute fueling. The disposal rate is 90%.

The citizens benefit from the revenue as they stabilize the bin taxes.

Disposal through charity organizations such as Oxfam, Diakonie, Red Cross, Caritas or the Salvation Army:

You can dispose of your old clothes in their containers, that you find all over town or directly in their second hand stores.

International: www.oxfam.org

Germany: http://www.altkleiderspenden.de/

The 50% wearable clothes are used as follows:

Only 10% or sold in their shops or given to the needy for free, there is no more demand in Germany.

The other 40% are sold to sorting factories that divide the garments in many categories in order to put together a range that matches with the wholesalers (climatic) demands for customers in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.


So, clothing donations rarely go directly to the needy in your country, though, taking a “detour”, turn into a money donation for the charity.

There are critical voices that the import of European and American second hand clothes to Africa cause a negative impact on the local textile business. But over the years the positive developments that came along with “Mitumba” prevailed. Lots of new business models popped up such as small trading businesses, tailors and ironing services that transform the market goods into a presentable wardrobe.

The remaining, not wearable 50% are sold to recycling companies that again make cleaning cloths and insulation out of it.

Clothing donation in return for a gift voucher with trading partners of I:CO:

I:CO offers an alternative, international collecting system, partnering with textile companies.

I:CO stands for “I collect”, and that’s what the company motivates brands and customers to. The fashion companies can donate their flawed or exchanged garments and we can do so with our worn-out clothes.

Their goal is to process the complete volume in a cradle-to cradle closed loop, to build a zero-waste-circle.

There are no containers outside on the streets. Instead, one can dispose their bags in in-store containers of about 60 partner clothing chains such as Puma, H&M or Levi’s. In return, you receive a gift voucher for the next purchase. Here is where you can find a participating store near you:


The handling of the donated garments is similar: Good stuff is sold as 2nd hand garments. The rest is brought to their recycling factory and that’s where the up and downcycling takes place. 95% are successfully being recycled.

Have a look at their presentation box to see the possible metamorphoses:


The left row shows knit as the initial product. After being shredded and transformed to a non-woven composite material it can for instance be used as isolation for cars. In an average car there are 40 kilos of recycled fibre.

The middle row shows a shoes as the initial product. It sometimes consists of 50 different ground materials such as wood, metals and plastics. Still the current technical applications used cannot handle such complex recycling. Nowadays we are able to recycle the rubber soles. These are grinded into pellets and can then be used for flooring.

The right row shows the upcycling of 100% cotton denim into a recycling yarn. The fibres shown can for example be blended with long-fibre virgin cotton and then being woven into new fabric.

Upcycling is an ambitious process, as Mr. Dietsch-Dörtenbach from I:CO explained to me. Complex fibre blends are challenging the engineers. They work at full stretch to improve the processes for not only being able to process mono material such as 100% cotton or polyester. To further push this improvement I:CO created the “closed loop alliance”. In order to build an efficient RE-CYCLE you need companies that contribute their expertise. Innovators in this field can get involved and benefit from networking and exchanging competences.

Moreover I:CO supports social initiatives.

All interested initiatives can apply at www.charitystar.com, registered users can vote online for the projects.

The initiative with the most votes receives a payout of 1000 € as soon as the amount is gathered and that’s the case, when enough kilos of used clothing piled up. There is 2 cents for each kilo from the I:CO sponsors.

The initiatives and the current collected volume can be checked out here:



Those were the good guys, but attention! There is also bad guys among the garment collectors. As we just learned, business with old clothes is lucrative. There are illegally set up containers whose content is being sold without anybody benefitting from it except the impostors. The containers are made to look very much alike the original containers provided by the charities, they even claim to collect for charity reasons on the bins. A big loss for the good guys. So please get your information on where to find the proper bins ahead of disposing your garments.

If my favourite chuck is actually switching sides and from now on serves the new chucks as flooring remains undecided.

The many new lifes that textile recycling is making possible and at the same time releasing the environment is worth bringing your stuff to a recycling spot and not only throwing it away.