To reduce the amount of clothing ending up in landfill, we can limit our consumption of clothing, choose natural materials wherever possible, wear it out, repurpose or upcycle the fabric and haberdashery, recycle the fibres if you have this option, and compost biodegradable clothing – in that order. If you are doing this well, you shouldn’t have to donate clothing to charities or others (which is reuse, not recycling by the way), except perhaps for children’s clothing which can be grown out of long before it is worn out.

In our home, clothing moves through a system of garments we wear in public to those we wear around the home and for outdoors work until they are worn out. Sometimes clothing is not comfortable or suitable for outdoors work so it’s often upcycled as we need things. For times when we have enough fabric for future upcycling projects, and the home and work clothes are too tattered, I compost the biodegradable fibres or bury them in the garden. This process gives me a sense that I am treating garmets as a valuable resource and using them to their full potential. It’s basically running a circular economy at home because I eventually return firbres to the soil, where new fibres can grow.

Natural textiles that can easily biodegrade (break down naturally from bacteria) include, but are not limited to, cotton, silk, wool, cashmere, bamboo, jute, and hemp. These textiles will decompose in one week to one year in most cases. Wool and bamboo could take up to five years. Leather and cork are also biodegradable clothing materials but will take much longer to break down.

Reusable parts collected from clothing before repurposing or composting.
Reusable parts such as buttons, clips, eyelets, zips and tshirt yarn collected from clothing before repurposing or composting the fabric. Clothing provides an amazing amount of resources.

To get started, first make sure you have removed the non-biodegradable materials like plastic tags, buttons, zips, elastic, clips, press studs and so on. Save these for reuse or donate to opportunity shops or craft groups.

Next, shred your clothes as much as possible. Smaller pieces will decompose faster. The rate of decomposition will also be affected by how healthy your soil is and if you have a hot or cold composting system. Hot composting systems and healthy soils full of micro-organisms will decompose material faster.

*Side note: instead of shredding your clothing you can use the fabric as weed matting by laying it flat under your mulch around new plants and in new garden beds.

Fabric from clothing ready to be composted.
This is the fabric from one pair of cotton shorts, one cotton jumper, three cotton tshirts, and one pair of wool Ugg boots including the leather and cardboard soles, ripped into small pieces to be composted.
Burying clothing fabric in the compost heap or garden soil to biodegrade.
Burying fabric in the garden soil to biodegrade.

Given the amount of clothing I am composting on this occasion and because my chickens have reduced my compost heap to virtually nothing, I have decided to bury the scraps of fabric in different parts of the garden that won’t be disturbed for a long time. Now I will completely forget about the clothing, and as always happens, I will be a little suprised the next time I’m digging in the area to discover it is no longer there.

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5 thoughts

  1. I’ve been burying or composting my old clothes for quite a while, but I hadn’t thought to cut them up, which is a good idea for them decomposing more quickly. I find that sometimes there is non-compostable material in some clothes that I thought were completely natural, and I will find this in my compost when I’m using it, and it’s easy to remove and put in the bin, as all the natural fibre will have rotted away from it. I guess that’s one advantage of not cutting up the garment as the residue is all in one piece.
    On another matter, I have been trying to find good strong wooden clothes pegs for quite a while to replace my heavy duty plastic ones as they wear out. The spring loaded wooden ones I bought are useless, as the spring is not well designed to hold the wooden parts in place and they fly apart readily. When I try to put them back together it is evident that the design of the spring is poor. The horizontal arms that hold the wood are quite short so it is easy for the wood to twist off the spring. Have you found any decent wooden pegs? I can’t imagine why they can’t be constructed strongly like heavy duty plastic ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve had issues with my wooden pegs in the past too. I’m using bamboo ones now which I find are much stronger and asting longer. Here is the link to them https://t.cfjump.com/29671/t/14846?Url=http%3a%2f%2fwww.biome.com.au%2flaundry-products%2f9039-bamboo-clothes-pegs-pack-of-20-609613821257.html
      There also metal pegs but I haven’t tried them. https://www.google.com.au/search?q=metal+pegs&ie=&oe=#q=metal+clothes+pegs&*
      Interesting about the residue. Do the tags say 100% natural fibre?

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  2. You will often find some of the stitching is synthetic so you can be left with the outline of your garment if you use it as a whole piece. Using old natural fibre garments as covers in worm farms is good. Being natural they are readily moistened and they eventually get eaten by the worms. A much cheaper option than purchasing the commercial “worm farm blankets”.

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