Sew your clothes, sow your garden: how to recycle fabric scraps

Every sewist accumulates a small mountain of fabric scraps. The web has plenty of ideas for making these small scraps into something cute: little purses, scented sachets, cat toys, makeup removers, and more. But what about the scraps leftover from those projects? This guide will show you ways to recycle fabric scraps.

According to the EPA, 8% of the waste that went to landfills in 2017 was textiles. The good news is there are many ways to keep your sewing scraps out of that waste stream. Whether composting, recycling, or re-use, you can find the right solution for your living situation.

1. Toss fabric scraps in your compost pile

Composting allows you to recycle your fabric scraps into a nourishing soil for your garden. Any fabric made from 100% cotton, linen, hemp, silk, bamboo, wool, or other natural biodegradeable material can be composted, either in your backyard, or in a commercial service. Synthetics or fabric containing synthetics such as polyester, rayon, and nylon are not compostable. Be sure to remove zippers, buttons and other doo-dads, and cut or shred the fabric into smaller bits before tossing into your bin for faster composting. Fabric counts as “browns” in your green to brown ratio.

Recycle fabric scraps into compostNot composting yet? It’s very easy, keeps a whopping 30% of food waste out of landfills, and generates rich fertilizer for your yard. There is lots of wisdom on the web for getting started, but I recommend consulting your state agricultural agency or university extensions for tips that may be helpful for your area. For my state of Connecticut, the Dept of Energy & Environmental Protection has some straightforward tips.

What if you rent or live in an area with bears or other furry opportunists that make it difficult to backyard compost? There may be curbside pickup services in your area that will collect your compost bin each week and replace it with a clean bin. Some will also provide you with finished compost.

You can also see if there is a Community Compost program that will accept your drop-off compost raw materials.

2. Recycle fabric: see if your town or region participates in a textile recycling program.

Many cities participate in curbside textile recycling. Residents are provided with a large bag to fill with clean unwanted textiles, including clothing, drapes, bedding, shoes, and purses. At the curb, the filled bag is exchanged for a new empty bag. Your items are then sorted for donation, resale, or recycling into new fibers. One company, SimpleRecycling, describes what happens to the textiles they collect.

This method of recycling will even accept your synthetics like polyester – put all your unwanted fabrics in the curbside bag.

3. Use your small scraps as fiberfill.

I have used small fabric scraps as stuffing in several projects with great success. Usually the projects are on the smaller side, for example the adorable knitted gnomes by Sarah Schira. The downside is that fabric scraps won’t work as well if you want something with a lot of fluff. Still, this is a great option that lets you avoid spending money on new polyester fiberfill. Again: save money, avoid plastic. Double win!

Other recycling ideas? Let me know!


Photo credits:

Fabric scrap pile, by Amy Harrell,  licensed under Creative Commons License a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Spring garden photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash