Ways to recycle used clothes around the world

Ways to recycle used clothes around the world

Ways to recycle used clothes around the world

Why should we recycle used clothes?

The two major problems faced by humankind today are the lack of resources and environmental pollution. Therefore, how to reasonably use resources, recycle and reuse waste, and develop the circular economy are the current concerns of human beings. According to statistics, used clothes account for 3.5% to 4% of the total waste. Every year, the amount of clothing used in the world reaches more than 56 million tons.

Suppose the average use cycle of clothes is calculated by 3 to 4 years, and the waste clothes are calculated at 70%. In that case, the annual amount of used clothes produced will reach more than 40 million tons. In order to make full use of this waste resource, reduce its pressure on the environment, and extend the use cycle of clothing, developed countries have started the research of second-hand recycling and introduced a series of policies since the 21st century.

1.Ways of recycling used clothes in many countries

(1). Germany

Germany has 1.9 million tons of wasted vintage clothing each year, of which nearly 800,000 tons (about 42%) of used vintage clothing recycled in the way, as Figure 1 shows.

1:How to reuse used clothes in Germany

The most important method is that charities recycle these used vintage clothing. These clothes will be disinfected, cleaned by specialized personnel, and then sent to low-income families, representing 40% of Germany’s textile and garment reusing modes.

 (2). Britain

Every year, there are 1.1 million tons of used clothes discarded in the UK, of which nearly 300,000 tons (about 27%) are recycled in the way shown in Figure 2.

Exports abroad account for almost 70% of all reuse. people sale most used clothes,  while the rest are recycled into regenerated fiber or rags.

 (3). Japan

Japan discards 1 million tons of used clothesevery year, of which only 120,000 tons (about 12%) are recycled.

At present, the main reuse methods are second-hand clothing and recycling. Among them, UNIQLO, a major Japanese clothing brand, has launched a recycling campaign for used clothes, and more than 90% of the recycled clothes are refurbished and donated to refugees through UNHCR. 

 (4).the United States

In the United States, more than 9 million tons of bulk used clothing are discarded each year. Still, only about 1.14 million tons of them will be recycled, with a recycling rate of only 12.7%.

Over 50% donated to charity as second-hand dresses of second-hand apparel . About 20% is processed into regenerated fiber, about 15% is burned and converted into heat, while the rest is buried.

(5). Other countries

Some other representative countries adopt the following recycling methods for second-hand textiles and garments.

CountryRecycling methods for used and waste clothes
FranceRecycling companies work with charities
SwitzerlandDoor-to-door collection by professional recycling companies


In France, The number of recycled clothes is only 35,000 tons . There are some recycling activities hold by clothing recycling agencies and charities. sorting The recycled clothes by companies specializing in clothing recycling. Some of them are used for charity or recycled, while some clothes not needed by the associations. such as dresses, wedding dresses, and uniforms, are sold to second-hand retailers.

A recycling company in Swiss can collect and process 18,000 tons of used clothes each year. Residents put their used clothes into plastic bags regularly delivered by the post office and left them on their doorstep. Then picking up by staff from the company. The recycled clothes are roughly classified into three categories: second-hand apparel selling, clothes donated to the poor, and worn clothes made into rags, and so on.

Charities mainly carry out Australia’s clothing recycling work. And the government will recycle old clothes into the door-to-door household waste collection system. 

2.Policies related to the circular economy in each country

(1). Germany

Germany, recognized as one of the countries with the earliest and highest level of development of circular economy in the world,has formulated and promulgated the Waste Disposal Act as early as 1972. The core of Germany’s circular economy legal system is the Circular Economy and Waste Management Act introduced in 1996, emphasizing that manufacturers are responsible for the entire life cycle of the products they produce. Polluters bear the obligations and costs of treatment,and simultaneously recycle the waste. 

Germany has also enacted regulations to promote the development of the circular economy in the industry, such as the Packaging Waste Disposal Act and the End-of-Life Vehicles Regulations. At present, waste disposal has become an essential industry in the German economy, with an annual turnover of more than 40 billion euros

(2) Britain

The UK has enacted laws such as the Environmental Protection Actthe Waste Management Act, and the Pollution Prevention Act to promote the circular economic and social structure. Also, it has established waste separation and recycling facilities throughout the country.

(3). Japan

Japan is the country with the most sound circular economy laws and regulations. The first level is the basic level, namely Basic Act for Establishing a Sound Material-Cycle Society; the second level is the comprehensive laws, mainly the Solid Waste Management and Public Cleaning Act and  Waste Management Act; the third level is the industry-specific laws, including Containers and Packaging Recycling ActHome Appliance Recycling ActFood Recycling Act, etc. To establish a recycling-oriented society, Japan has stipulated that the state, local governments, enterprises, and the public should reasonably take their respective responsibilities and costs.

(4). The United States

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act enacted in 1976 and the Pollution Prevention Act passed in 1990 have contributed to the development of the circular economy in the United States. More than half of the states in the United States have enacted different forms of recycling regulations. And the recycling rate of solid waste has exceeded 30%.


As we all know, China is a populous country, so the demand for textiles is relatively large, coupled with today’s “fast-paced life”, the change of clothes is also very fast, China. According to data from the China Circular Economy Association. My country’s annual total fiber processing is about 50 million tons, and more than 20 million tons of waste textiles. The comprehensive utilization of waste textiles is about 3 million tons.

The comprehensive utilization rate is only about 15%. As garbage, Burn or bury them to their end. (Data comes from China Circular Economy Association, for reference only)The incineration of clothes not only affects the environment, but also causes a huge waste of resources. Therefore, it is necessary to carry out effective recycling . And re-export of used clothes. in Africa and Southeast Asia,you can see more China’s main used clothes. At the same time, the industry of recycling and re-exporting used clothes has slowly developed. Some Chinese businessmen have discoveredusiness opportunities. From this, such as Zagumi Trading Co., Ltd. and Haisen Trading Co., Ltd., their actions are the best examples.

  1. Conclusion

According to recycling methods of used clothes in various countries, it is clear that the most common way is for recycling companies or charitable organizations to recycle second-hand clothing .And eventually use it for charity activities. The representative countries are the United States, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Australia. There are also more ways to re-sell and recycle used clothes. In Japan, the recycling activities led by well-known clothing brand companies are more likely to attract consumers’ attention. And have more pronounced effects.

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