Blog Post

Can You Put Clothes in the Recycling Bin?

You should NOT put your old clothes, shirts, pants, sweaters, bed sheets, blankets, quilts, towels, and curtains in the recycling bin. This a more important rule to follow than people think.

It’s an unfortunate reality that old clothing gets placed in recycling containers and causes big problems at recycling centers. Having multiple recycling centers and serving thousands of customers at Rumpke, we reap the consequences and witness first-hand what can happen when clothing is placed in the recycling bin.

What Happens When Clothes Go in the Recycling?

Rumpke sees quite a bit of unwanted items in recycling, especially clothing. For example, there have been certain months where clothing alone accounted for about 20 percent of unplanned downtime. This mean that the recycling facility was no longer running because the clothing caused a jam or equipment malfunction.

Clothing as "Tangler"

Fabric materials, like your clothing and bed sheets, are referred to as “tanglers” in the recycling industry because these materials are notorious for wrapping around spinning discs and rotating belts – ultimately causing extensive damage to sorting equipment.

So, please don’t put clothing or bed sheets in your recycling bin.

What to Do with Old Clothing?

If you shouldn’t put t-shirts, pants, shoes, sheets, quilts and blankets in your recycling, what should you do?


Many local charities would love to have your items (even if tattered or stained)

Hand Down

Share the stuff that no longer fits with someone else


Add a little income through online sales (Facebook’s community marketplace and private neighborhood groups are growing in popularity)


Make dust rags or other fun crafts


As a last resort, place it in the garbage (we know you did your best)

Why Would Someone Put Clothes in the Recycling?

In many of our conversations with well-intentioned recyclers, this is a form of “wishcycling,” where individuals place items in the recycling in hopes that Rumpke is able to recover and recycle it. However, we can’t, and these items end up taking a tour of the city or state before heading to the landfill.

In other cases, it’s a matter of convenience – either put it in the trash or the recycling bin. It feels wrong to place clothes in the trash, so it goes in the recycling instead. If it’s an “either/or” situation, please go with the trash.

About the author: Jonathan Kissell is the communications manager for Rumpke Waste & Recycling.

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