Seven (non crafty) ways to recycle old t-shirts


how to recycle old t shirts

Do you have piles of old t-shirts hiding somewhere in your house? They’re no longer wearable, but you can’t bear to chuck them out? We have millions of the things, I swear. Two years worth of red work t-shirts turned pink by the brutal Queensland sun, neatly stacked in my husband’s cupboard waiting for one of us to find a use for them (I’ll tell you the real reason they’re still there later in this post).

It can be difficult working out how to recycle old t shirts. What you choose will depend on the state of the t-shirts you have to get rid of.

Donate unwanted tees
Obviously, if your old t-shirts are simply no longer fashionable or don’t fit, donate them to an op-shop, directly of via a collection bin, where they will be sold or passed on to people in need through the associated charity.
But surely no-one would want to wear your old faded (or torn/threadbare/holey) t-shirts, right?
If they’re good-quality cotton and still in one piece, it’s worth stuffing them in your nearest clothing collection bin. Clothing that is rejected by the charity is sold to textile recycling groups like King Cotton (NSW) or Allround Recycling (VIC), which pack them into containers and ship them off to developing nations such as PNG and countries in Africa. I’ve been to one of the second-hand clothing shops in PNG and they are an affordable way for locals to buy clothing for work and school.

Find someone who can use them
Speaking of schools, you don’t have to look overseas to find people who need clothing. My sister worked as a teacher in an indigenous community in NT and we sent all our old t-shirts to her. Kids aren’t allowed to go to school without a t-shirt (or shoes), so if a kid’s one t-shirt was needed by someone else in the family, then he missed out on school that day. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find an official program that send pre-loved t-shirts to indigenous schoolkids (if anyone knows of such a thing, let me know!) but if you have a personal connection to someone working in a remote community, find out if they are in need of t-shirts.

Give em your old rags
If your t-shirts have been worn by your beloved for about a decade too long, you can always donate them to a company that will turn them into rags. This can be very difficult for the beloved to come to terms with, so best not tell them what you’re up to. King Cotton, mentioned above, accepts donations for rags. Search for similar companies in your area and, if you can, find out what happens to the rags at the end of their life.

Make cloth wipes
Over the years I’ve tried a few different fabrics for cloth baby wipes and, quite frankly, a square of t-shirt material does a grand job. I don’t fold and hem mine, but you could if you were even one iota less lazy than me. I have a stack of squares on the shelf above the change table next to a tomato-sauce bottle full of water, which I squeeze onto the cloth or the child depending on the gravity of the situation. Wipes go into the nappy bucket to be washed, dried and sorted with the nappies (therefore are not confused with any other rags).

Use them as hankies
As above, you could get all crafty on us and make some neat handkerchiefs out of old t-shirts, but considering the job they need to do, you could also simply cut up the t-shirts into squares and be done with in.

Put them to use in the garden
In theory, you can compost cotton t-shirts, but they will need to be shredded and may slow down your compost significantly. Once a t-shirt has done it’s rounds as a baby wipe or cleaning rag, I would think about adding it to the compost, but other uses are as weed-mats beneath mulch or torn into strips to tie up your tomatoes and other plants.

Send them to the bag lady
This is a little random, but if you look at where the free green bags have ended up, you’ll notice many have come to Australia. The Green Bag Lady is an eco-friendly art project that has been going since 2008. More than 24,000 reusable shopping bags have been distributed free thanks to fabric donations from all over the world. I reckon your Eagles Hell Freezes Over Tour tee would make a pretty cool shopping bag… BTW, to get a free bag, you simply have to promise to never ever use a single-use plastic bag again.

Turn your t-shirts into yarn and make something useful
Okay, so I promised this was a post for non-crafty, time-poor mamas. But this is the real reason we have 50 faded t-shirts taking up space in the midst of my decluttering…. I am convinced that one day, I am going to sit down with a pair of sharp scissors and turn those puppies into t-shirt yarn, which I can then weave, sew or crochet into something amazing.

tshirt yarn

My dream is to make a bathmat like this or this because ours wear out so quickly, but I also wonder if a t-shirt pom-pom might make a fab replacement for a plastic loofah. And my recycled pup would love an upcycled t-shirt chew toy. Sigh, one of these days I’ll have some time!

How do you recycle old t-shirts, do share!


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