8. What do I do with old clothes/fabrics?

This is one that has loads of options of what to do with clothes and fabrics at the end of use line.  It is also an issue that we need to think about the manufacturing and purchasing at the beginning too.

Firstly, we buy too much. Think about your wardrobe and drawers – how many of those clothes do you actually wear regularly? Did you know that “To produce just one cotton shirt requires 2700 to 3ooo litres of water. Textile production uses around 93 billion cubic metres of water annually, representing 4% of global freshwater use”.  What one person drinks in two-and-a-half years to make one cotton shirt. In areas already facing water stress, cotton production can be particularly damaging. In Central Asia, for instance, the Aral Sea has nearly disappeared because cotton farmers draw excessively from the local rivers. Cotton farming is also responsible for 24 percent of insecticides and 11 percent of pesticides despite using about 3 percent of the world’s arable land. Water use and pollution also take place during clothing production. About 20 percent of industrial water pollution is due to garment manufacturing.

Do you really need that $5 t-shirt you’ll only wear a few times?

Secondly, we love to buy things that are cheap, but they often come from slave/child labour and don’t last. People are becoming more and more aware of “fast fashion”, which makes clothing cheaply and quickly with a low price-tag. But are we buying any differently?

The number of fashion seasons has increased from two a year – spring/summer and fall/winter – to as many as 50-100 micro-seasons. This pressures us to keep buying more often to keep ‘in fashion’ and the production is increased hugely. “The average consumer is now purchasing 60 percent more items of clothing compared to 2000, but each garment is kept half as long.”

Thirdly, is the environmental impact of synthetics. Synthetic fibres like polyester have less impact on water and land than grown materials like cotton, they emit more greenhouse gasses per kilogram. A polyester shirt has a greater carbon footprint than a cotton shirt (5.5 kg vs. 4.3 kg, or 12.1 pounds vs 9.5 pounds). Polyester production for textiles released about 706 billion kg (1.5 trillion pounds) of greenhouse gases in 2015, the equivalent of 185 coal-fired power plants' annual emissions.

Even if you buy them second hand to save from the landfill, they still shed microfibres when washed and pollute our oceans and sealife. Polar fleece is one of the worst for this. It is a real issue for opshops as people don’t want to buy them, so they have to pay to landfill (or send to Pacific Islands as ‘donations’ which is probably worse).

Our local waste guru Anthea has a vid and info here:
Remix Plastic

Research the brands and support ethical companies - those that have transparent supply chains, support workers rights, sustainability practices. Check out the 
Tearfund Ethical Fashion Guide that is released each year that rates our larger companies like Glassons.

Easy Answer – buy less. Michelle from Flourish has focussed on buy nothing for a year and now after two years has only bought undies and one pair of pjs when her others died. She found she has enough in her wardrobe as it is and that wearing the same thing again and again is stress-free. If this isn’t possible for you then have a go at being ‘minimalist’.

Buy Second-hand

We have a wonderful number of op-shops/second-hand shops across Aotearoa that often have better and more variety than the boring mainstream shops. Second-hand Christchurch is a great group and also has a map! 

Us kiwis also have a wonderful tradition of handing baby clothing on too.

Clothing Swaps - Our library networks host “stash swaps” for craft supplies, which can include fabrics.

Facebook has many share, pay it forward, ITAC groups.
Pay it Forward ITAC Christchurch (It takes a community)

There are loads of places to donate to and don’t forget your friends and family!  

  • The SPCA take plain sheets, towels and bedding depending on their current supply and demand.
  • New Brighton Blanket Bank take bedding to give to homeless and vulnerable families.
  • Red Cross, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, City Mission, Dog Watch and more.
  • Save the clothes bins for last as many of these get turned straight into rags, even if you put in your Gucci top.


  • Hand-knitted woollen jerseys can be unpicked and reknitted as long as they are of a plain design (stocking stitch or rib), and haven’t shrunk. If they are Aran or Fair isle, not so much. Synthetic wools can’t be unpicked because the fibres tend to fuse during the washing process.
  • If you have an overlocker old merino tops, jerseys, and blankets can be turned into a range of things. Baby hats, scarves, cushion covers...
  • Any clothing that has worn out can be remade into a range of things: dolls clothes, patches, veggie bags etc. Sharon, from Our Daily Waste, used to love it when a favourite dress got remade into a dolls dress.
  • Tea towels, towels, and T-shirts can be repurposed as dish cloths, face cloths, cleaning rags etc.
  • Worn out socks make great dusters – simply pop over your hand.
  • Worn out nylon tights make excellent pot scourers or plant ties.
  • Coffee sacks make great pet beds or cut and line your garden pots or beds.
  • If you like making patches out of patterned fabric etc. old mattress protectors make excellent backing to create raised, textured patterns.  
  • Old cotton t-shirts, sheets, and towels are often bought by tradesmen for cleaning up (check your local mechanics, paper makers or painters.)
  • Natural fibres that are beyond any kind of upcycling can also be composted. Our Daily Waste compost their leather work gloves after they’ve done a stint as my gardening gloves.
  • Curtains can go to the Curtain Bank at Community Energy Action
  • Our great grandmothers had all the answers: rag rugs; patchwork quilts; kids clothing from flour sacks

Repair cafes, Libraries and Stitch o mat run repair workshops: 

Repair Cafe NZ covers Repair Cafes all over NZ and helps you set one up too. A monthly repair cafe is held at Riverlution in Richmond. 

The library network also has sewing, embroidery and overlocker machines, as well as of course the library network has a huge amount of books and online resources around clothing repair. 

New Brighton Stitch-o-matis a great place for people to get involved in community sewing projects, share and learn sewing skills  

Our Waste Gurus live and breathe reducing waste, especially in their work places too. Sharon of Our Daily Waste "I made apron uniforms out of recycled cotton Hi-Vis. We needed something more functional, easy to clean, and most of more stylish than usual Hi-Vis. The X on the back made it really easy to find the crew on event nights too. They were all made from cotton fabrics bought in second hand shops".

EcoEducate used fabric scraps and turned them into Whenua Korowai Cloaks! The 
Cloak of the land will be on display at the Ashburton reduction centre. Lesley of Eco Educate "now purchases second hand clothing for our uniform and adds an embroidered patch we can unpick and reuse. This means staff are walking the talk and can have their individual look.
Any small bits of yarn fabric we put in goody bags we drop off to preschools". 

*Data from World Resources Institute


Rubbish Talk