A pile of bras.

Don’t throw your bra in the bin

A lot of us donate clothes to charity, but what about underwear? Aimee from Bristol Textile Recyclers explains that bras can have a longer life when we have finished with them.

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 am not quite ready for second hand.  I have around eight bras but probably only wear three of them. I am a fan of the basic t-shirt bra in a practical black, white or beige. Usually I add to 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?

Good bras don’t come cheap: worldwide we spend billions on bras. This is why I make sure to 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 had seen better days and surely couldn’t be reused or recycled… or could it?

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

Upcycle your bra

The internet is a great place to find upcycling inspiration and with a quick search plenty of information pops up on what to do with old bras!  Here are just a few ideas.

Recycle your bra

Check with your local council whether 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 the garments don’t get wet, in case it rains on recycling day.

Donate your bra

Most charity shops accept gently used bras which can be worn again. Even if the bra does not resell on the shop floor, a textile recycler will purchase the bra 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 5,000 tonnes of textiles that Bristol Textile Recyclers (BTR) diverts from landfill in the UK each year, around 0.5% are bras. This works out to a staggering 320,000 bras per year. These bras have been collected from charity shops as well as from textile banks. BTR weighs the bras and other textiles and pays the charity by the kilogram.

Back at the factory, our team check each bra’s reusability by hand. Along with other reusable textiles, bras are exported to developing nations in central Africa. Purchased by local traders, the second hand bras give people access to good quality, affordable underwear where new garments may not be easily accessible or affordable. Any non-reusable bras will be 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.  

Bras ready for sorting in the BTR factory.

We’ve come a long way since ancient Greece when it is thought women started wearing bras. Corsets came in fashion for wealthy women from the 16th century, with mass production of the modern bra starting in the 20th century.  If you are looking for a new bra, here are some brands to check out:

  • Ciel uses sustainable fabrics and manufacturing through the design and making process. 
  • Luva Huva is hand made in the UK and also uses ethically sourced materials.

Bristol Textile Recyclers diverts 20 tonnes of textiles from landfill daily and helps its retail charity partners further fundraise by purchasing their unsellable donations, including clothing and other textiles.