If you’re wondering what to do with old jeans, this article is just what you’re looking for. Whether it’s because you don’t like them anymore or because they’ve been outgrown, there are lots of things to do with your old or worn jeans that do not involve the landfill.
From how to upcycle denim jeans and no-sew options, to donating and recycling, we will explore everything you need to know to help you figure out what to do with those old jeans you don’t know what to do with.
Let’s start with why you’re such a wonderful human for looking into diverting your old denim jeans from the waste stream, and why it's so important to do so.
Are jeans environmentally friendly?
Like a lot of our clothing, denim production can come at a hefty cost to the environment and to those involved in its production. From farming the cotton required to weave the fabric, to sewing, to getting the final products in our hands, there are lots of issues along the way.
Materials and fabrics
One of the main issues with jeans is that conventional manufacturing processes can be very chemical-intensive.
For one, conventional jeans are usually made of cotton which is known to be a very pesticide-intensive crop when produced unsustainably. This poses important health concerns for the workers and the ecosystems that are exposed to these chemicals. Cotton is also a very water-intensive crop.
The synthetic fibres used in conventional jeans are also an issue; often derived from fossil fuel bi-products or requiring chemical-intensive processes that are harmful to workers and to the environment as well.
Some synthetic fabrics are also linked to microplastic pollution which winds up in the ocean, in the food chain, and in our bloodstream. In fact, researchers from the University of Toronto have found blue jean fibers in far-off regions like the Arctic, far from human activity. (Wired, 2020)
The most chemical-intensive part of making jeans has to do with the dyeing and finishing processes, however. Despite what you might imagine, the wastewater from these processes is far too often released right into the waterways in communities in which they are manufactured without being treated. This means that all of the toxic chemicals, heavy metals and other waste products from these processes wind up in the waterways. (EcoWatch, 2018)
Altogether, a conventional pair of jeans requires an average of 1,500 gallons of water, and it is truly wise to try and make the most of them once you are finished with them. (One Earth, 2020)
The people who make our jeans in conventional supply chains are often very vulnerable to unethical labour practices too. From practices like child labour and slave labour to unfairly low wages and unsafe working conditions; the fashion industry is riddled with an unsavoury underbelly, even when it comes to the most trusted and ubiquitous brands. Learn more about these issues in this article about slow fashion and fast fashion.
For a long time, companies were not held accountable for their negative impact on the environment or for the wellbeing of their workers. With that, we can often be accidentally supporting unethical brands that not only harm the environment but their workers as well. The garment industry is no different.
With that, and the 10 million tonnes of clothing that are sent to landfills every year in North America alone, making the most of your old jeans, wherever they come from, is a great choice for the environment and for the planet.
If you want to replace your old jeans with a more ethical pair check out this article featuring some of my favourite sustainable ethical jeans.
If you happen to be looking for other ethically produced clothing check out my articles on eco friendly t-shirts, sustainable eco friendly socks, fair trade pajamas or ethical jeans! You can also learn about how to choose your clothing more ethically in this article about sustainable and ethical fashion.
What to do with old jeans?
So what to do with old worn-out jeans then? Thankfully, lots of awesome humans have also asked themselves the same question and have figured out some great ways to rise to the challenge. Let's start with the basics: donating and recycling.
Can old jeans be recycled?
If you are wondering if old jeans can be recycled, like lots of other clothing they can be. Some cities or towns have private or public recycling operations that will take your used textiles and recycle them. Unfortunately, some places do not.
To find out if there are any recycling facilities or bins near you do a quick search for textile recycling bins or drop-off locations in your community. To learn about what to avoid when recycling your old clothes check out this article on 5 clothing recycling mistakes.
How can I donate old jeans?
This is a great solution if you are wondering what you can do with jeans you don’t want anymore. They must be in good condition though so make sure they have no holes or pesky stains. If they do, your local donation center will only wind up sending them to the landfill on your behalf.
Due to the pandemic, many donation centers have been overwhelmed so make sure your donations will be accepted before leaving them by a donation bin. For more on that check out my article on what to do with your clothing donations right now. I’ve also got a great article on how to dispose of your old pillows if you’ve been wondering.
Can I sell old jeans online?
Selling your old jeans may be an option too if they are in good enough condition. If you aren’t sure about their condition ask yourself if you’d buy them if you found them on the racks at your local thrift store. If you’d like to go this route here’s a handy guide on selling your used clothes online.
How do you upcycle old denim?
Now we’ve come to the fun part for the crafty among us. So if you’re into crafts we’ve gathered some of our favourite ideas on what to do if you want to upcycle your old jeans. We’ve also gathered a separate list of some no-sew upcycling options if these are a bit too involved.
If you are not familiar with the term upcycling? It simply means to take an old item that would’ve otherwise been discarded and transform it into something of equal or greater value like the great ideas featured here.
Upcycled Baby Shoes
Try your hand at making these adorable baby shoes out of your old jeans.
Repurposed Denim Kids Aprons
Who knew your old pair of jeans could make a nifty pair of aprons to keep the little ones less paint or food covered during craft time or as your little sous-chefs. Complete with a decorative touch and a front pocket, this makes for yet another adorable solution for upcycling old jeans.
DIY Denim Pouches
Turn your old denim into these handy denim pouches perfect for keeping change or whatever you see fit.
DIY Tote Bag From Upcycle Jeans
Yet another practical lease on upcycling old jeans, this DIY Tote Bag looks great and can be used for a variety of purposes.
DIY Upcycled Denim Backpack
This DIY Upcycled Denim Backpack takes things to another level. If you are up for the challenge the video offers step-by-step instructions on how to turn your old jeans into an awesome backpack for under 5 bucks.
DIY Recycled Denim Basket
For lovers of keeping tidy, or anyone looking to make a useful item for the home, this recycled denim basket is a great way to weave your old jeans away from the landfill.
DIY Rope Basket with Recycled Denim
A little more complicated than the previous basket, but quite aesthetically pleasing and versatile, this DIY Rope Basket would make a sturdy addition to your sewing room, or any other room in your home.
Upcycled Denim Rag Rug
Another very practical solution for upcycling your old denim, this project helps you turn your old jeans into a rug.
Upcycle Old Jeans Into Dress
If you’re wondering how to reuse old jeans to make new clothes, this is for you. You can turn your old jeans into an amazing dress like the one featured in this project.
Upcycle Denim Jeans to Jacket
You can also try your hand at upcycling your old jeans into a jacket!
What to with old jeans if I don’t know how to sew?
If you are wondering what you can do with old jeans without any sewing, there are still simple, practical, and fun options for you too. Here are some of our favourites:
No-Sew Upcycled Pen Pots
This simple project can require as little as a pair of your old jeans, good scissors, and some safety pins. The result will be an adorable solution to organize pens or knick-knacks. You can also choose to use a sewing machine if you’d like.
Denim Feather Wall Decor
This is a lovely decorative no-sew option to turn your old denim jeans into feather wall decor. It can be made out of found objects too.
5 DIY No Sew Recycled Denim Dog Toys
For all our pet owners and lovers out there, here you’ll find several no-sew dog toys ideas that will truly put your denim to test and give them another very worthwhile use.
Turn Your Old Jeans Into Shorts or Bermudas
This may be just what you are looking for in the summer months. Simply snip your old jeans into shorts or Bermudas and if you would like some guidance there are lots of Youtube tutorials to help.
You can even make a handy apron in no time with a pair of your old jeans and some good scissors.
Botton line when it comes to what to do with old jeans
When it comes to figuring out what to do with old worn-out jeans there are several options to suit different needs and lifestyles. From recycling them to turning them into clever crafts, your old jeans can definitely find a second life beyond the landfill. You may even stand to make some extra cash by selling them online too.
If you are looking for a new pair of jeans to replace your old ones, have a peek at these 20 online thrift stores and if you don’t quite know how to go about it here are my best thrifting shopping tips. I have also curated a list of my favourite ethical jean brands to help you reach for some of the best ethical jeans available.