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How to recycle your bras

All Areas > Environment > Save the Planet

Author: Aimee Campanella, Posted: Monday, 24th October 2016, 08:00

Working in the textile recycling industry and seeing the amount of great clothing going to waste, I take a ‘never buy new’ stance when it comes to outerwear. With underwear, I’m not quite ready for second hand. I have around eight bras, but probably only wear three of them, and am a fan of the basic t-shirt bra in a practical colour. Usually I bolster my collection after Christmas, using up a high street gift voucher on some new lingerie. What better way to start the New Year than with new knickers?

All textiles can be reused or recycled
Good bras don’t come cheap! Worldwide we spend billions on bras every year, hence why I wear my bras down to the wire. Old, broken bras used to get chucked in the bin when they no longer offered the support I needed. At the time I thought, why would someone want a worn- out bra? It has seen better days and surely can’t be reused or recycled… or can it?

Whatever you do, please don’t do what I did and put unwanted textiles in the bin. All our textiles can be either reused or recycled – even our old underwear. Here are a few options:

Upcycle: The internet is a great place to find upcycling inspiration, and with a quick search plenty pops up on what to do with old bras! Make a ‘brall’ (bra ball) for your pet to play with simply by stitching the cups together; transform your bra into a bandeau, swim top or bustier and make underwear into outerwear; or even get inspired by the WI and use your old bra as a plant holder and make a ‘brasket’.

Recycle: Check with your local council if you are able to recycle textiles in your kerbside recycling box. If so, bras can go in there too! Make sure to place all textiles in a plastic bag so garments don’t get wet, in case it rains on recycling day.

Donate: Most charity shops accept used bras that are in good enough condition to be worn again. Even if bras don’t resell on the shop floor, a textile recycler will purchase them along with any other unsellable donations from the shop. This means even an old bra can help fundraise for the charity’s beneficiaries.

From the 5000 tonnes of textiles Bristol Textile Recyclers (BTR) diverts from landfill in the UK each year, around 0.5% are bras – this equates to a staggering 320,000 bras per year that have been collected from charity shops and textile banks. BTR weighs the bras and other textiles and pays the charity by the kilogram. At the factory, each bra’s reusability is checked by hand and they are then exported to developing nations in central Africa, along with other reusable textiles.

Minimising potential climate change impact
Purchased by local traders, the second- hand bras give people access to good quality, affordable underwear where new garments may not be easily accessible. Non-reusable bras are recycled into energy from waste, which has a lower greenhouse gas impact than landfill, making it the preferred option for managing waste to minimise potential climate change impact.

We’ve come a long way since ancient Greece when it is thought women started wearing bras. Corsets came into fashion for wealthy women from the 16th century, with mass production of the modern bra starting in the 20th century. If you’re looking for a new bra, there are many brands out there that use sustainable, ethically sourced materials throughout the design and manufacturing process.

Aimee is a member of the Gloucestershire Environmental Education Partnership (GEEP). To find out more visit www.geep.org.uk.

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