Recycling your clothes is a just a myth.

Or, at least, largely a myth.

Remember how I suggested last week that we should try to make our school-based t-shirts out of recycled textiles? And in an older post, shared my observational study on H&M’s recycling campaign? Well, my classmate Ryan shared with me a video that I’ve uploaded below (it’s around 20 minutes long, but it’s worth watching! I’ll discuss the main points of the video, so if you don’t have time to watch it, you may read on). It really changed my understanding of the textile recycling scene:

Environmentalist and author Elizabeth Cline says “The reason why H&M is focusing on textile recycling is because it’s an easy sustainability win for them. It doesn’t involve them changing their production model at all.” 

She also says “Only about 1% of clothing” is actually transformed into new clothes and that accepting old clothes and “recycling” them “doesn’t make the fast-fashion system any more sustainable”.


Then where does the rest of it go? 

The simple answer: landfill.

Image: Carolyn Thompson Does that label on the grey shirt look familiar?

-in lower-income countries like Kenya, where burning in landfills contribute to air, water and land pollution. This leads to serious health concerns for nearby communities, including the schoolchildren who study at St John’s s School, near this landfill:

Image source: Duncan Moore/ UN Environment Dandora landfill near St John’s School in Nairobi

And it harms the local apparel industry, so much so that these countries wish to stop accepting used clothing.

This is a result of none other than human greed– people buying more than they need, and fast-fashion companies producing poor quality goods to raise profits, eventually having their clothes thrown away in weeks. Wealthier countries dump their waste on less affluent ones, even though this may not have been intended. 

Talk about environmental injustice.

Image source: Duncan Moore/ UN Environment Smoke from the burning landfill shrouds the school as students engage in everyday activities. We should be grateful for clean learning environments in Singapore.


Claudia Marsales, Markham, Ontario’s senior manager of waste and environmental management, says that “it would take 12 years to recycle what they (fast-fashion outlets) make in 48 hours” because of their rapid mass production process. She says that fast-fashion outlets’ recycling campaigns are “more about foot traffic, marketing, greenwashing” as opposed to fixing the problematic fast-fashion model of business. Markham, where she works, does not even allow textiles in landfills.

And I thought that everything I put in that clothes recycling bin magically turned into brand new clothes.

Apart from that, an article I read says that textile recycling faces many obstacles, such as not having enough textile waste that can be obtained and eligible for recycling, and the cost of recycled textiles being more pricey than regular ones.

I guess making our school-based t-shirts from recycled textiles may not be possible yet.

So with end-of-year sales around the corner, I’d like to echo Marsales’ advice: buy only what you need

Planning a shopping spree during the holidays? Stay tuned for next week’s post, where I’ll share some ideas about how to shop for clothes more sustainably. 


Till then, take care, and have a great weekend! 🙂 


6 thoughts on “Recycling your clothes is a just a myth.

  1. Hi Evelyn!

    Interesting post! I was astonished and incredibly disgusted to find out (from the video) that clothes left in H&M’s recycling box were actually being sold to less developed countries for market owners to resell them to the people over there.

    However, I feel like my friends around me are still ambivalent about the problem of fast fashion. While they are aware of the consequences of fast fashion, they eventually succumb to temptation when a particular article of clothing catches their eye. In that vein, could you elaborate on some ways to convince the people around us to abandon fast fashion? Perhaps one that makes it personally relevant for Singaporeans such that all of us will be mindful of the consequences of fast fashion when we feel tempted to buy.

    Looking forward to your next post!


    1. Hi Letitia,

      Thank you, and I’m glad you found the video informative. I too was shocked to realise that H&M was apparently hypocritical about their environmental sustainability.
      I can relate with you about the dilemma that many young people face when it comes to the actual decisions we make about fashion. I’ve also been tempted to buy fast fashion, especially when fast fashion outlets market themselves as trendy and offer attractive designs and prices.
      However, from my experience, keeping in mind the people who made your clothes has made me think twice about fast fashion many times. I think many youths are especially ignorant about the social impact of fast fashion. There needs to be more education about this. Perhaps schools would be the best place to start.
      Anyways, interesting you asked about how to convince youth to give up fast fashion, as I had done a project that came up with a few strategies that aimed to promote eco-fashion among youth with my groupmates for Project Work when I was in junior college.
      I don’t think I can give you an elaborate solution here, but I hope to do so in a later post.

      Thanks for asking, it was a really important question that I will be thinking about.

  2. Hi Evelyn!

    Reading about this makes me think about plastic recycling as well! The situation for both plastic and textiles are actually pretty similar. In that they are often not recycled due to the lack proper management of these recyclables and that it is simply much easier to incinerate or landfill them instead. Moreover, the design for short term usage for both materials makes it hard for them to be recycled.

    However, I was wondering, are there any instances or case studies where textiles have been successfully recycled and how did they do it?

    1. Hey Ann Shin,

      Oh yes, plastic recycling is another complicated problem. Indeed, fast fashion mass produces disposable clothing, much of which ends up in the landfill.
      Addressing your question, I discussed a textile recycling technology called Content Thread in my post titled “Can recycling fix the fashion industry?”, but admittedly, such technologies are in their infancy and aren’t widely adopted yet.
      And a particular instance of when recycling/upcycling was successful is the AdidasxParley collaboration. I learned about that from a couple of my survey respondents, and you can read more about it here:
      Thank you for your question 🙂

    1. Hi Dr Coleman,

      Thank you for sharing this piece of good news 🙂
      It’s so encouraging to see that more people, including those like myself, are becoming conscious shoppers. I totally agree with the article that education has had a major part to play in changing consumer behaviour. I’m extremely grateful for having learned about fast-fashion in junior college.
      I hope more students will be taught about the social and environmental costs of fast-fashion like I was.


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