Are Recycled Fabrics Good for the Planet?

Fashion should never cause harm to Nature

Recycling cans, plastic bottles, or even electronics is second nature for most of us. But is it possible to do the same thing with fabrics? 

Today, more and more voices in the fashion industry are calling for us to reduce, reuse, and recycle old clothing to lower textile production’s environmental impact. And it’s about time! Overconsumption in the fashion industry is killing the planet and something needs to change now. 

The environmental impact of fast fashion

If you still need convincing, let’s look at the numbers. According to Bloomberg, the United States throws out up to 11.3 million tons of textile waste yearly, or more than 2,100 pieces of clothing every second. The United Nations also claims that fashion accounts for around 10% of greenhouse gas emissions because of how much energy goes into production. That’s crazy!

Moreover, textiles are the largest source of microplastics in the world because many rely on synthetic materials made of plastic, like polyester. When we wash clothing made of polyester, tiny bits of plastic break off from the fibres, enter into wastewater, and go to our sewage systems to get filtered. However, microplastics are so tiny that they don’t get filtered out. The majority of microplastics end up in our rivers, lakes, and oceans as a result, which can have devastating effects on marine life. 

The fashion industry is actively harming us, our communities, and all of Nature. Given textiles’ environmental impact, fashion brands must work together to establish more sustainable manufacturing practices, use renewable resources, and make circular fashion a reality.

We can’t keep going on with business as usual. Recycling fabric could be part of the answer to moving toward a more sustainable future, but is it actually good for the planet? Grab your cup of coffee and keep reading to find out. 

What types of fabrics can be recycled?

Recycling fabrics can reduce the environmental impact of microplastics. You can recycle nearly all fabrics today, but some of the most common include wool, cotton, nylon, and polyester. 

Since they’re recycled, these materials require less energy and fewer materials in production, making them a more sustainable choice for the environment. Recycling also keeps old clothes out of landfills, saving space and preventing more greenhouse gas emissions from being created.  

As if that’s not enough to love, recycled clothing also tends to be cheaper than newly produced fabrics, whose expenses are typically higher because of using raw materials. 

What are recycled fabrics made of?

Recycled fabrics are usually made of plastic bottles, fish nets, paper, and waste from fashion production. 

However, turning plastic bottles into textiles is not necessarily a great idea and is actually a misleading tactic that is often used for greenwashing. Here’s a video by City to Sea and the Changing Markets Foundation that explains why making clothing from plastic bottles is in fact a false solution.

Recycled fabric can be a more eco-friendly choice than using virgin fibres, but only when produced from actual textile waste. This way, instead of going to landfill, the materials are re-used to create a new product, extending their life and protecting the environment from more damage. 


Where can I buy recycled fabrics

Not sure where to buy recycled fabrics? I’ve got you covered.

You can purchase recycled fabrics from several places throughout the world, but if you’re looking for a good place to start, check out Ecological Textiles, a supplier of sustainable textiles in Europe.They carry various fabrics and yarns that contain recycled cotton and hemp. 


Manteco manufactures various kinds of textiles, but their crème de la crème is undoubtedly their MWool 100% recycled wool. This fabric is made from a combination of pre-consumer scraps from the textile industry and post-consumer garments.


Candiani are at the forefront of innovation in denim and their ReGen fabric is made with regenerated fibres, using 50% recycled cotton from their own production and 50% TENCEL™ x REFIBRA™ from recycled manufacturing scraps.


Can recycled fabrics be used for natural dyeing?  

Yes, but they must be made from 100% natural fibres like wool, cotton, silk, cashmere, or hemp. If the materials contain anything synthetic, don’t use them for natural dyeing. 


Recycling does contribute to elongate the life of textiles, however fibres can only be recycled a finite amount of times

Recycling textiles will be a crucial piece in making the life of a fabric last longer, however that doesn’t always mean it builds up to equal circularity in fashion, since textiles can only be recycled a finite amount of times.  

It’s also worth noting that according to the Ellen McArthur Foundation’s A New Textiles Economy report, less than 1% of textiles are currently recycled into new textiles. This means that if garments actually make it to a recycling centre (instead of landfill), most of them will actually be downcycled to create rags or stuffing instead of new clothes. So recycled textiles are still far from being a mainstream reality!

Moreover, many clothes recycled today contain plastic. That means they will still produce microplastics when you wash them and are not biodegradable. The fashion industry must completely abandon using synthetic materials like polyester, acrylic, and lycra.  

A larger cultural shift needs to happen around consuming less and buying fewer clothes. We must try wearing our clothes for as long as possible to reduce our strain on the environment and as fashion designers or crafters we must pursue using sustainable fabrics. 

So…is the recycling of fabrics sustainable?

As the fashion industry moves toward a more sustainable, zero-waste future, recycling fabric can be a transitional solution to save energy and reduce the impact of textile waste. However, we can’t rely on recycling to solve all our problems—nor should it be the first solution we reach for. 

All of us—consumers and designers alike—must work together to build more sustainable habits, use fewer resources, keep our current wardrobe in use as much as possible and buy environmentally-friendly clothing whenever we actually need it.

Making the shift can seem overwhelming, but you can start building a more sustainable mindset with a few baby steps and small changes at a time. 

If you need helpful tips along the way, check out my blog, where we discuss ways to make slow fashion part of your lifestyle.