Can you recycle fabric scraps?

  • Date: July 22, 2022

The environmental impact of clothes and fabrics is being increasingly acknowledged. In the U.S. alone, we send a LOT of fabric waste to landfill. Partly due to the fast fashion industry, textiles take up a fairly significant 5% of landfill space. Clothes in decent condition can easily be recycled or re-used in some way, but what about smaller fabric scraps? Of course! The usual avenues might just be a bit more selective than they are with clothes, but there are options – where there is a will to divert from landfill, there is always a way. Here we will take a closer look…

Ways to recycle fabric scraps

As with all recycling, rules and regulations differ massively from country to country and even city to city. However, when it comes to recycling fabric scraps, they are generally not suitable for the standard curbside collections. If you are in any doubt, check with your local recycling center for their curbside guidelines – don’t just pop them in and hope for the best! It isn’t ideal that they aren’t suitable for curbside collections, but don’t worry, there are other options.

Take your fabric scraps to a recycling center

Much like some other household items, fabric scraps can be recycled, but they are not uplifted from your home. This does not mean they are destined for landfill – far from it. You can recycle the scraps, but it involves the extra step of popping down to your nearest recycling center. Fabric scraps can be recycled into many things, including insulation, so it is well worth the trip.

Specialist programs for fabric scraps

Depending on where you live, there will be specialist programs available. A quick search online is likely to locate some options in your local area. These tend to include organizations that will collect the fabric scraps to re-distribute them to creatives projects/schools in the community.

London-based Scrapstore is a great example of this. They have been reducing carbon emissions for decades by diverting fabric scraps, amongst other things, from landfill and incineration. Over 60 tonnes of ‘waste’ every single year is saved! Individuals sign up for a yearly membership and have access to as much of the materials donated as they want/need for their projects. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Get creative

There are lots of ways to re-use your old fabric scraps – whether you are naturally artistic or not, the list is endless. Even better, why not make a re-usable item that replaces a single-use plastic one – for example, menstrual pads? There are plenty ideas in the video below, but if none of them appeal jump over to Pinterest to find out more.

Donate your fabric scraps to charity

If you aren’t the crafty type, why not donate them to a charity close to your heart? Charity shops across the country will be delighted to see you walk through the door with your unwanted fabric scraps – as well as any old clothes in decent condition. They will be able to re-sell it on to crafters to boost their much-needed funds.  The charity is likely to clean it before it goes on sale but, especially in the current Covid-19 climate, it is best to give it a clean first.

If you don’t have a local or convenient charity to donate your fabric scraps to, you could pass them on for free on a website such as Gumtree or Freecycle. There are always crafters out there looking for materials for their next big project.

Composting may be an option for your fabric scraps…

Composting is a great way to reduce the amount of waste your household sends to landfill. In addition to diverting it from landfill, you will also create your very own nutrient-rich compost to use in your gardening activities.

The suitability of a fabric scrap for composting depends on what it is made from. Fabrics can be natural, synthetic (human-created) or a blend of both. Typical natural fabrics include cotton, hemp and silk whilst common synthetic fabrics include polyester and nylon.

For an item to be suitable for composting it must be from a natural source. Natural fabrics can biodegrade and return to nature, whilst their synthetic counterparts break down into smaller pieces rather than biodegrade.

Simply cut the natural fabric scraps into small pieces and mix it in with your compost pile – it will make a useful carbon-rich ‘brown’ addition. The timeframe for complete breakdown will depend on the type of fabric but cutting it into smaller pieces will make the process a little quicker.  

The bottom line

Although fabric scraps are not suitable for most curbside collections, it does not mean they are automatically destined for landfill. Most types of fabric can be recycled (into anything from new clothes to insulation) – they just need to be given to a specialist program or taken to a specific recycling center rather than popped in the standard home recycling items. We always advise re-use in the first instance. This prevents the use of resources associated with recycling. However, where this is not an option, recycling is a great way to divert your fabric scraps from landfill.