The fashion industry is responsible for a lot of waste:
- According to the United Nations Partnership on Sustainable Fashion and the SDG’s nearly 20% of global wastewater is produced by the fashion industry
- The same study found that between 2000 and 2014, clothing production doubled with the average consumer buying 60 percent more pieces of garment compared to 15 years ago. Yet, each clothing item is now kept half as long.
- The Environmental Protection Agency, that 15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013, of which 12.8 million tons were discarded (via NPR).
Many of us want to eliminate fast fashion from our closets and invest in quality products that last. Unless they're Knix wireless bras, bras typically last a mere 6-12 months. So you might wonder what you can do with old bras other than simply tossing them? Are there better environmental and ethical options for your old bra?
Thankfully, yes there are...
Old (Unworn or Gently Used) Bras Can Be Donated
Got a bra in your underwear bra that you never wore as often as you thought you would. Or that ended up being the wrong size or uncomfortable for you? Donate them.
Some thrift stores do not accept donated bras (Goodwill, for example, will vary location by location). But if you have a bra that’s clean and gently worn, or new, you have a number of options for donating bras.
- Local shelters: Help women in your immediate community by checking if your local women’s shelters and homeless shelters will let you donate your old clothes and used bras.
- Free the Girls: For those of us located in the U.S. or Canada, Free the Girls accepts donations or new and gently worn bras. They use your bra donations to empower previously enslaved and trafficked women to become entrepreneurs and find true freedom in Maputo, Mozambique; San Salvador, El Salvador; and San Jose, Costa Rica. Learn how to donate bras here.
- The Bra Recyclers: In partnership with companies around the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, The Bra Recyclers accepts gently worn or unworn bras and recycles, reuses or repurposes them, while also providing substantial social benefits to women and girls escaping domestic violence, drug addiction, human trafficking and breast cancer survivors. Learn how to donate bras here.
- I Support the Girls: For readers in the U.S. I Support the Girls collects and distributes essential items, including used bras, underwear, and menstrual hygiene products to women and folx experiencing homelessness, impoverishment, or distress to stand tall with dignity.
- In-store trade-ins and donations: Mall stores sometimes organize bra and clothing drives or trade-ins which are a great opportunity to bring in used bras and get yourself something new. You might also check with your local lingerie stores to find out if they take donations.
Or Try Some Creative Upcycling
Pinterest and YouTube have a few novel ideas about ways you can upcycle old bras. One of the most popular lessons comes via Skunkboy blog showing how an old bra can be sewn into a backless dress to give you some support, where you might otherwise go braless.
Other suggestions you’ll find online include everything from purses to shoe inserts. Suffice to say if you’re the creative / crafty type, you can let your imagination run free!
Recycle Bras ... Or Even Compost Them!
If your old bras are truly expired telltale signs include:
- Loose or stretched out band and/or straps
- Underwires bent or popping out
- Molded cups losing their shape
- Stained, torn or damaged fabric showing signs of breakdown
If this is the case, your bra isn’t in good enough shape to be donated. But it can be recycled. Here are some ways to do that:
- The Bra Recycling Agency: In the U.S., B.R.A. ensures bra materials get recycled rather than end up in a landfill. All proceeds for underwire metal recycling are 100% donated to Breast Cancer Research.
- Local Recyclers: Check your neighbourhood for clothing bins that specifically mention recycling (rather than donations for reuse). Many organizations accept worn out clothes for recycling. What happens to these items? They can be:
- Recycled into industrial rags
- Shredded and turned into insulation
- Recycled and turned into new textile products
- Certain stores: A good by-product of the conversation around fast fashion is that companies like H&M have stepped up their efforts to mitigate the problems they contribute to. If you're in Toronto or Vancouver, you can donate in the Knix stores as well.
Underwear or clothing that’s 100% cotton can also be composted. Make sure you cut off any elastic bands and then they can go in your compost bin!
The Absolute Last Resort: Trash it
If your bra is beyond repair and cannot be donated for reuse and you are unable to find a way to recycle it, your last resort is to trash it.
Obviously this adds to the textile waste problem and given the lifespan of bras this is an unfortunate cycle to become locked into.
At the very least, work hard to minimize waste by buying bras you’ll actually wear (like wireless bras from Knix), use and love thoroughly before they end up in the trash.