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.

21 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.

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    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
      There also metal pegs but I haven’t tried them.*
      Interesting about the residue. Do the tags say 100% natural fibre?


  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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      1. I’ve found the same thing with “100%” cotton garments. It’s usually just the seams left behind and is like finding a clothing skeleton. I usually leave clothing in one piece for that reason but will try cutting the seams off and shredding the rest. I find whole items a bit of a nuisance when turning or using compost as they get tangled on the fork long before they breakdown. I usually put them the the compost a few times if I’m doing fast composting and turning daily.

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  3. I hadn’t thought about this before. I upcycle garments into other products,but there are still leftover parts that I had previously thrown in the garbage. But no more!

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  4. Although this is an old post, since it still arrives on google’s first page, I find it pertinent to mention that although bamboo is biodegradable, most bamboo fabric is made with synthetic spandex which means it is not, and most cork fabric is attached to a poly-blend backing via a polyurethane adhesive which means it also isn’t compostable. Lastly, modern leather is chemically-treated specifically to prevent biodegradation; typically this is true even if it is veg-tanned.


    1. Hi Adam, Its something I’ve thought about but I haven’t noticed any ill effects (not that I compost lots of clothing, most I can reuse first) and have not found any sources of information that discuss it. Maybe it’s something that hasn’t really been looked at yet. I guess if it’s bad for the soil it’s not going to be good for us to wear either.


      1. Thanks for the feedback. Perhaps if I’m concerned, the best option would be to use it for mulching around trees on paths – not on areas to be used for growing food?

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  5. Black Art Fashion is an Australian men’s clothing brand. We have some exciting deals on Men’s pants, Mens jeans, Mens chinos. Visit our online store Men’s Pent or you can also try on one of our outlets in Australia.


  6. It is necessary for this time people should be concerned about the clothing they wear. Recycling is something we can at least do rather than dumping it. What do you think can sustainable clothing help with this type of problem?


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