Aluminum, glass, paper, plastic and … T-shirts? Now you have good reason to clean out your closet, as more and more clothing companies are finding ways to recycle or reuse that pair of pants you never wear (or wore so much they fell apart).

It’s not an entirely revolutionary idea: Nike has been recycling footwear since 1993, when it launched the Reuse-A-Shoe program. The company encourages customers to mail old sneakers to the Nike Recycling Center in Wilsonville, Ore., where they’re ground into materials to cushion playground surfaces and create tennis courts.

And last year, Patagonia, known for its eco-forward policies, began recycling its sportswear through their Common Threads program. “Our goal is to take responsibility for our products, from their inception to their end,” says Patagonia spokeswoman Jen Rapp. When customers drop off their old garments, the fabrics are shipped to a recycling plant to be broken down and spun into fresh fibers. Then Patagonia weaves those fibers into new long underwear, T-shirts, and other garments. Beyond saving space in landfills, “we realized that through a recycling program, we could have enormous energy savings,” says Rapp. Among the program’s positive side effects, Patagonia reports, are a 76 percent decrease in energy use and a 71 percent decrease in CO2 emissions. The company hopes to include all its products in Common Threads by 2010.

But the impulse to reduce and reuse is spreading to other companies. Last year, Banana Republic papered their stores’ windows with signs that read "DROP YOUR PANTS." The signs were part of the Drop Your Pants campaign, a partnership with charity organization Goodwill — if you donated a pair of used pants to Goodwill through a Banana Republic store, you’d get a discount on Banana Republic merchandise.

This year, ads for Martin + Osa, a grown-up version of campus favorite American Eagle, request that you “dispose of your old clothes properly.” To help you do just that, they’re running a denim donation program — bring any old pair of jeans to Martin + Osa, and the store will donate them to participating charities.

While Banana Republic and Martin + Osa are quick to point out that they are not “green” companies, that hasn’t stopped them from dabbling in decidedly green marketing campaigns. In past years, Banana Republic’s parent company, Gap Inc., has flirted with organic cotton and teamed up with natural body-care company Kiss My Face to create a line of earth-friendly lip glosses and lotions, while Martin + Osa provides shoppers with recyclable bags and wraps purchases in paper bearing the tagline DISPOSE OF YOUR OLD CLOTHES PROPERLY. They may not be green companies, but they’re obviously taking notice of their green-leaning customers.

And isn’t it nice to be noticed?

PATAGONIA: Common Threads

Any of Patagonia’s Capilene garments that are at least 95 percent polyester can be recycled ( Patagonia recommends that you drop off your garments while running other errands, to reduce your environmental impact. Just bring them to any Patagonia store, or ship them to:

Patagonia Service Center
8550 White Fir Street
Reno, NV 89523-8939NIKE: Reuse-a-Shoe

Nike’s recycling program (Reuse-a-shoe) accepts any brand of old sneakers, provided they don’t contain metal components. Check the website to find the Nike drop-off center nearest you, or mail them to:

Nike Recycling Center

c/o Reuse-A-Shoe

26755 SW 95th Avenue

Wilsonville, OR 97070

Story by Erika Villani. This article originally appeared in Plenty in December 2006. This story was added to in June 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2006.

Ready to rewear
Mainstream retailers give your old duds new life.