What to do with Old Bras? Recycle, Donate & Reuse!

One thing I feel that almost all women have in common is a drawer or even two stuffed with bras and underwear. And if you’re anything like me, you have your favourites that you wear over and over and then you have bras and underwear that have been collecting dust for years in the back of the drawer. Which begs the question, What to do with Old Bras?

You don’t have the heart to throw them away, but you also have no idea what to do with all the old bras and underwear you no longer wear. Most people assume that the trash is the only option when it comes to old, used undergarments. Guess what, it's NOT!

So, What to do with old Bras?

When it comes to getting rid of old bras most think their only options are A. trashing them or B. burning them in a sort of symbolic ritual (I’m not joking, some people really do this #FREETHEGIRLS).

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Before you resort to such drastic measures there are a few, bra recycling, eco-friendly options out there that may just be the second life your bra deserves. After all the time it has spent supporting you, now is the time to pay it forward by donating your old bras to charity or a women's shelter. Yes, there are several organizations that will take your tata holders and do something wonderful with them.

But, what about those bras that were so well-loved that they are literally falling apart at the seams? What can you do with those types of old bras?

Should you throw out old, ratty bras?

I know it can be tempting to just take the bra you no longer want, walk to the trash bin and leave it there without a second thought! But the reality of doing this just leads to a bigger problem, textile waste. Textile waste is a HUGE, global problem that is increasing by the day.

I know you’re probably thinking “Really? It’s just an old bra, it’s not that much waste…”. While you’re right it’s just an old bra and all things considered, it isn’t a large amount of fabric but when you have everyone throwing away their old bras it’s more than you’d think.

The ravages of the textile industry aren't just reflected in waste from shirts or pants, underwear that ends up in landfills also plays a starring role. In Canada, the average person throws away an estimated 36.7 kilograms of clothing annually. And if that's the amount for just one person, imagine how many tons of clothes are wasted in total annually. Let that sink in.

So, even that one little, old bra makes a difference. If you’re looking to make a transition into a more sustainable lifestyle, you can help reduce the textile waste we generate by simply looking for other alternatives when it comes to “disposing” of bras.

Repurpose your old worn out bras with a DIY project via Creative Upcycling

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What comes to your mind if I tell you that you can wear your bras on other areas of your body besides your chest? And, what if I tell you that that "other area" can be your face? I promise I haven’t lost my mind, I'll just say two words: face masks.

COVID-19 changed every aspect of our lives, even the way we wear our underwear. Bras are no longer just for support, they can also become a DIY project via creative upcycling, and what better way than to use them for extra protection during these difficult times?

(Note, by this we don't mean that bras can replace medical masks. This project can be useful if for some reason there is a shortage of masks or you need an extra layer on top of another mask).

But first, what is creative upcycling?

Let’s just ask the million-dollar question right away: Isn’t upcycling the same thing as recycling? Turns out it isn’t. They are from the same family, but they don't look much alike.

Recycling is the process of transforming disposed products and materials into new products to avoid waste. On the other hand, creative upcycling is the practice of converting waste products that are no longer useful into new materials with a higher value than the original. Pretty cool, right?

By upcycling your old bras you can make several fun things like those face masks I mentioned! To make a face mask out of an old bra you just need to cut the sideband of the bra first, then cut the strap and stitch it from one end of the cup to the other. If you have no sewing skills, don't worry. Hot glue is always there for you.

This project is ideal for smaller-busted women. If you happen to be gifted with large melons, you may end up with a mask that not only covers your mouth and nose but your entire face. It's logical that we want to protect ourselves from the virus, but… The sense of sight is a necessity, you know. haha

But, there are many other projects you can make with your bras like using the padding as stuffing for pillows and stuffed animals. You can use bra straps to make adjustable bracelets and headbands.
Also, leftover cups can be sewn into backless dresses for the perfect built-in bra.

You can even turn those old, stained and ripped bras into a DIY ball for your dog or cat! As you can see, there are so many options, just get your creative juices flowing!

Can You Donate Old Bras?

Of course, you can donate old bras! As long as they are in “good but worn” condition, all bras are welcome. There are thrift stores that can resell your old bra if you've only worn it a couple of times, but there are also non-profit options that help women who don't have easy access to bras.

These organizations benefit women who are homeless, recently released from prison, in low-income countries or in shelters (P.S: You can also ask your local shelter if they accept bra donations).

When to Skip Donating your bras

When they are in “bad and tearing apart” condition. If you see that your bra has permanent stains, if it's broken after years of wear, or if the elastic is excessively loose, donating it may not be a viable option as most nonprofits have a standard that the bra must be in good condition. And if we're talking about thrift stores, bras have to be very well preserved (for obvious reasons).

Are there charities that take used bras?

There are several charities that do accept used bras. You just need to wash them well, check that they are within their standards for donation, and that's it. Some of them are The Salvation Army and Goodwill, two renowned charities. However, it’s more advisable that when it comes to bras, you go for a bra-specific charity.

Donating to Bra-Specific Charities in your area

Bra-specific charities are the best option for donating your old bras because they efficiently distribute the pieces to women in need. Besides that many come hand-in-hand with projects that help women who are victims of sexual violence and trafficking.

Free The Girls is one of them, in addition to making victims of sexual slavery and trafficking visible, they distribute donated bras to survivors of such traumas and helps them create second-hand clothing businesses in their communities. Its programs make it clear that even with a simple donation, you can help free the girls.

Another option is The Bra Recyclers, who collect bras both to distribute them to women escaping domestic violence, trafficking or battling breast cancer and to recycle them into carpet padding, for example.

Finally, I Support The Girls accepts gently-used bras for global distribution to women in need. Not only that, but they also distribute tampons and maxi pads, essential items for every woman. They take it upon themselves to help women in precarious situations regain their dignity through the use of bras and menstrual care products –and that's admirable.

However, if none of these charities are based in your country, you can search for your local bra-specific charities online. The internet is a wonder, you're bound to find one!

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How do you dispose of old underwear?

Underwear is a very intimate thing. We've been taught since we were little that no matter what the situation is, underwear should never, NEVER be lent out. This fact also makes it a bit tricky to get rid of old panties or briefs, as there are few charity centers that accept old underwear, especially if it's well-worn.

Now, if you have a pack of underwear that you bought years ago and never wore or only wore once, that's a different story. However, there are other options besides donating to charity, such as composting organic fiber clothing or donating to textile recycling.

Did you know you can compost your old underwear?

That’s right, underwear can be composted! If you have pairs made of 100% natural fibers like organic cotton (no synthetic fibers, they don't biodegrade), you can cut them into strips and put them straight into your garden or compost bin.

In addition to treating your plants as they deserve, giving them back nutrients and enriching the soil where they grow, you will be preventing your underwear from ending up in a landfill (and we already know what the situation is like in landfills). It's preferable that they pass on to a better life in the tranquillity of your home.

When should you throw out old underwear

Basically, it's the same rule of thumb as with bras - if they are in “bad and tearing apart” condition, it's best to let your undies go. But what questions should you ask yourself to find out if it's time to throw them out?

Simple: 1. Are they smelly? 2. Do they have unwashable stains? 3. Are they full of holes? 4. Are they more shredded than a julienne salad?

If your answer to each of these questions is "yes", allow me to give you some bad news: it’s definitely time to let them go. But wait a minute! You don't necessarily have to throw them away.

There are places like Hanky Panky that take in emaciated underwear, shred them and turn them into carpet padding. Textile recycling rocks!

Can I donate used underwear?

As mentioned above, yes you can, but it's a bit complicated. If you have underwear that you have used but is not in such bad shape, you can donate it to Planet Aid. As long as it’s freshly washed, they will accept it. Diabetes Canada also has a donation program for all types of clothing and textiles and using their search engine you can find donation bins near your area. There you can drop off any undergarments you no longer wish to have.

Next time you think about trashing your old Bra & underwear think again!

As you can see, all of the options presented above are excellent alternatives for getting rid of old bras & underwear you no longer wear. From DIY projects with your bras to finding a bra recycling program for donations that help those who need them most, underwear can mean something different to everyone. It can benefit you by giving it a new use or someone else by receiving that much-needed piece.

Living a sustainable life is not just about helping the planet, it is about helping others by getting rid of things we no longer need without throwing them away. Sometimes we may have the ingrained thought that if something is partially broken or didn't fit as well as we would have liked, we should throw it away.

In fact, this is one of the reasons why there is so much textile waste in landfills. We don't even think twice about the idea that one person's trash can be another person's treasure or if we can give a new purpose to what we throw away unselfishly. “If we don't see it, it doesn't exist”.

There are women who feel loved, beautiful and feminine when they receive a bra through a donation. There are people who, by receiving underwear, feel that they matter to someone, feel visible, human. Who knew that such a simple act could mean so much?

Help someone by sharing this article – sharing is caring 🙂 !

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  1. Comment author image

    Heather MacRae

    says:

    I have worn down my bras and just finally replaced. They are not good to donate or make crafts. I have removed hooks and metal, now what through out the underwire? Is there a textile donation where they would shred remaining fabric, that is not compostable?
    There is a Bra Store in Winnipeg that will take them, but $$ to mail. Can you clarify what to do so they do not end up in landfill?