The reason it's so important to upcycle versus recycle? "Clothing needs to be sorted into groups of similar material content if they're to be recycled," says Tiffany Threadgould, head of design at Terracycle, noting that it can be complicated to figure out how to sort your textiles to ensure they end up in the right place. "While many T-shirts are 100 percent cotton there are definitely cotton-poly and 100 percent poly blends, which would mess up a recycling system." So even if your T-shirts make it into the recycling bin instead of the plain old trash, there's no guarantee that they're actually going to be recycled, which is why it's more sustainable to find a new life for them to live.
Recycling is important, but falls to third place on the list of 'reduce, reuse, recycle' because it's more labor intensive," says Threadgould. "Focusing first on the reduce and reuse is where you can make the most impact. And throwing items away should always be reserved as a last resort, because that depletes precious resources."
Sure, you can turn your old T-shirts into dish rags, but isn't it much more fun to put your crafting pants on and transform them into something Pinterest-worthy that you can keep forever? "In general, clothing has sentimental value that can play in to the reuse value of the shirt," says Threadgould. "Perhaps you've outgrown them or they're stained or faded. With a few cuts and crafty twists, you can reuse that shirt."
Case in point: Generation T T-shirt expert Megan Nicolay has written two books with more than a hundred different suggestions of what to do with old T-shirts. We whittled the list down to 15 things you can do with old T-shirts that will keep them out of the recycling bin for yet another year. Get those crafting scissors ready!
1. Turn them into baskets
Woven baskets will run you some big bucks online, but you can make some of your own with some T-shirt fabric and a steady hand. This is more of a 200-level project, but you can learn how to DIY it here.
2. Give them to your dog
When you're done with your tees, tie them up and give them to your pup for a toy.
3. Cut them into headbands
When you feel like you've maxed out on the number of times you could wear your favorite workout T-shirt to the gym, cut it up and wear it on your head to keep your sweaty hair out of your face during a workout.
4. Add some beads
Transition your tee from clothing into a statement accessory by using the strips of fabric as necklace string. Use multiple strands for a piece that really pops.
5. Sew them into a quilt
Keep all of your favorite sentimental tees close by cutting them into squares and sewing them into a quilt, which will make you feel cozy and nostalgic at the same time.
6. Use them to hang your plants
Cut your shirts into long strips, then tie them together to hold your favorite hanging plants.
7. Braid them into bracelets
Cut your T-shirts into thin strips, and use the fabric to make friendship bracelets, which happens to be a truly chill-inducing activity.
8. Decorate your light fixtures
Give your lamps a bit of boho flair by dressing them up with T-shirt yarn, macrame style.
9. Make a wall hanging
Another great use for T-shirt yarn? As a wall hanging. Separate your solid color strips into bunches, then tie them around a metal ring (or three) for an accent art piece.
10. Turn them into tote bags
For a 10-minute T-shirt project you'll definitely use, turn them into reusable tote bags by cutting off the sleeves and sewing the bottoms together.
11. Weave them into a rug
Who needs to spend big bucks on an accent rug when you've got a bunch of old T-shirts lying around?
12. Tie dye them
When your white T-shirt just isn't white anymore, grab a bottle of dye to give it entirely new life.
13. Turn them into a backpack
Yet another thing you can do with T-shirt fabric: Braid the strands together for the perfect beach backpack, which you'll want to take everywhere.
14. Make some pot holders
All you need to do is weave together your T-shirt yarn (remember second grade art class?), and your hands will be forever protected from all that kitchen heat.
15. Weave a pillow
There are multiple ways you can turn your tee into something to rest your head on. You can sew a pillow into a T-shirt as an easy way to put your favorite graphics on display, or take things to the next level by weaving together strips of fabric in a few different colors and patterns.
If crafting isn't quite your thing, use your old t-shirts as hair towels as a way to protect your strands and keep them healthy and frizz-free. And when you're ready to invest in a new white tee, shop our favorites here.
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