Instigated by an inbox message, I discovered that socks are miscellaneous textile waste that add to the little book of tricky things of a sustainable lifestyle.
Wearing socks is part of my every day, no matter the weather. Often worn with closed-in shoes, I’m also known to wear them with thongs. Fashion faux pax or unique styling?! Socks keep my tootsies’ warm, protect my feet, and are my fashion statement accessory.
When Socks are Done
With so much sock wearing, their obsolescence is evident when my shoes gobble them up, the balls of my sock-feet thin, and the holes in the fabric multiply.
Purchasing well-loved, second hand socks are not enticing. Therefore, worn-out socks are easy and guilt-free enough to toss in the bin.
When socks come to the end of their original intended use, I’ve learned three other options to consider, before popping to landfill.
Sock Waste Challenges
Australia has limited textile recycling options available to help close the loop on textile waste, especially for socks.
In 2009/10, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that Australia sent 501, 000 tonnes (88%) of leather and textiles to landfill. Inseparable or unknown waste is too costly or difficult to recover.
Camille Reed, Founder and Director of the Australasian Circular Textile Association says “There are a number of challenges when it comes to the technology and actual materials to facilitate recycling…..due to the nature of the very new innovation the equipment is not yet operating at a commercial scale and requires a great deal of capital to run.”
Textile recycling is an emerging industry. Let’s instead think outside the square with our sock recycling efforts.
How to Recycle Your Socks
Here are three ways to reuse and recycle your old and well-loved socks:
1. Get Creative and Experiment
Many of these workable ideas are from our community and help reuse your old and worn socks in creative ways:
- Cut off the toes. Use them as arm/ wrist bands for prickly plants like lantana and bromeliads
- Shine your shoes after polishing
- Wrap around glass jars to reduce breakage & increase protection when in the freezer
- Use as stuffing
- Plant ties
- Hair ties
- Puppy paw protector post operation
- Put marbles in the end & tie a knot to become a fidget toy
- Try your local Buy Nothing Project group – you never know who may need to get creative!
2. Support Emerging Textile Recycling Initiatives
- Upparel is at the forefront of the emerging circular fashion movement. The company extends or redefine the life of unwanted textiles with nothing dumped or sent off-shore. Upparel’s mission is to reduce the number of textiles that end up in landfill. Purchase your sock recycling satchel here.
- H & M Garment Collecting Program has been around since 2013. Drop off unwanted clothes and textiles to any store, including Charlestown and Kotara NSW or a store near you.
3. Campaign for Product Stewardship
Product stewardship means that whoever designs, produces, sells, or uses a product takes responsibility for minimising its environmental impact throughout all stages of the products’ life cycle, including obsolescence management (Ref: productstewardship.net) Product stewardship is a step towards a circular economy.
The Australian Government (Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment) has a number of current product stewardship programs and schemes, which don’t currently include the textile waste problem.
Developing a national textile stewardship scheme is one of The Australasian Circular Fashion Association targets for 2030.
When Buying New Socks
End-of-life socks to new socks – solving one area of the sock problem. Choose the most eco-friendly raw materials, including 100% single material composition – preferably organic, GOTS certified and fairtrade, where possible.
Avoid blended composition socks, as these often include nylon, polyamide, elastane, polyester, which are all plastics.
100% wool socks, cotton socks, & bamboo socks are kinder on the planet
One hundred percent wool socks, 100% hand knitted in Australia woollen socks, 90% cotton socks, and 80% bamboo socks are kinder on the planet and are more likely to be recycled in the future. Because they are a primarily natural material, the socks are ideal for composting!
Finally, Pull Your Socks Up
There are practical alternatives to putting well-worn socks straight to landfill. Choosing natural fibres in the initial sock purchase is more eco friendly then blended fibre socks. Obsolete socks can be reused and recycled by getting creative, supporting emerging textile recycling initiatives and working towards better national product stewardship.
Some links in this post are my affiliate lifestyle partnerships. I may receive a commission when you make a purchase through these links.
Books to Read
I found these books really informative when writing this article. Borrow from your local library, or click through for availability: