This article is part of our Don’t Be Trashy series, where we look at NYC-based organizations tackling the city’s waste issues stemming from the fashion industry.
In our last segment, we looked at FABSCRAP, the Brooklyn-based fabric reuse center that works with over 700 design houses in New York to keep their discarded textiles out of landfill. Today, we’re focusing on organizations that cater to individuals. While there’s no magical FABSCRAP equivalent for the residential contingent, there are nonetheless a lot of great initiatives all over New York that accept your throwaways – which would otherwise go straight to landfill.
For many of us, the go-to move after a closet purge is donating everything to your local thrift store. But thrift stores are already overloaded with donations and don’t have the resources to sort through everything they get – especially since the pandemic. A lot of the stuff just ends up getting thrown away. A lot of shops in New York have stopped accepting donations or else grown more selective.
cartoon by @rozchast @newyorkercartoons
Disposing of things responsibly requires a little extra research – this is why so many people don’t do it. But there are so many initiatives in New York that cater to the question of what to do with our refuse. We wrote an earlier article about thrift store alternatives, and we’re expanding on it here. By the end of this series, we aim to know where to responsibly donate literally everything you could ever want to get rid of in New York City.
The Stuff Nobody Wants
Universally unwanted clothing like used underwear, stained, or otherwise unwearable stuff tends to go straight to the garbage. However, there are a number of services that have set up collection bins around the city for easy drop-off services, so chances are wherever you live there’s a place nearby to dispose of things properly. The process is relatively similar to FABSCRAP’s: the donations are sorted into different grades by either employees or volunteers, and marked for reuse or sent to be downcycled into insulation.
Note that not all of these organizations accept everything / operate everywhere or all the time, so be sure to check your items meet their particular criteria.
Well known for its compost initiatives, GrowNYC also provides free tools for New Yorkers to dispose of their fashion waste responsibly. It operates on a model whereby employees set up weekly collection kiosks in community spaces throughout the city. If you’re in Brooklyn or Manhattan, there’s a good chance you’ve seen them at your local farmers’ market – find your closest drop zone here.
Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens
Accepts: clean and dry clothing, paired shoes, accessories (handbags, belts etc, NOT jewelry), linens
Declines: fabric rolls, fabric scraps of any size, bedding (incl. pillows), luggage, rugs, furniture
Certified B Corp Helpsy’s collection bins are all over the northeast – including NYC. The bins are open 24/7 for donations, and as of 2021, the organization had kept 29 million lbs of apparel from the waste stream.
Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens – click here for precise locations
Accepts: clothing, shoes, accessories (handbags, belts etc, NOT jewelry, linens, luggage, stuffed animals
Declines: Home furniture, bedding, rugs
photo courtesy of @helpsy
The city run Department of Sanitation has over 1,500 collection bins stationed all across the city – you can check out all their locations plotted on this map to find your closest drop-off zone. The city is also behind the ultra-convenient RefashionNYC and DonateNYC initiatives, which provide bins to residential apartment buildings and communities at no charge.
City Wide Services
Accepts: clothing, shoes, coats, accessories (incl. jewelry), linens, bedding, towels, rugs
photo courtesy of DSNY
The Bulk Items
Like the clothing services, if you do a little research, there are in fact tons of options for getting rid of your old furniture, complete with pick up services (some with a fee, some without). The bonus here is that all of these particular waste-rescue operations have also managed to link their work to additional worthy causes. All of our selections donate their profits to initiatives that support underserved communities – so you have one more reason to pat yourself on the back when you donate your things to them.
Note that in the case of furniture thrifting, it’s a little more discriminatory: all items have to be in good condition for resale and companies require photos before they commit to pick-ups. They also reserve the right to decline items upon pickup if they don’t meet standards.
Hour Children’s parent company of the same name works with children whose mothers have been incarcerated and can’t care for them. The proceeds from the thrift store locations in Astoria and Long Island City all go towards providing care for these families.
Pickup: free // Queens
Declines: recliners, futons, bed frames, mattresses, or large appliances
The Housing Works community is at once a lucrative business and an advocate for New York’s under-served communities. All ten of the store locations across Brooklyn and Manhattan feature impressive inventories of vintage fashion and furniture. All the profits from these enterprises go towards fighting the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS plaguing the city.
Pickup: for a fee // city-wide
Declines: IKEA or similar furniture, large appliances, futons, mattresses, plus a long list of other items on their website.
The City Opera Thrift Shop is best known for featuring carefully curated collection releases throughout the year, each around a different design passion. Vintage, Fine Art, Designer and Couture, Design From Around the World, and Seasonal Collections are some of the more recent themes. If they like what’s on offer, furniture is brought in to the store for resale, where all funds raised are used to support the New York City Opera.
Pickup: free (Tuesdays and Fridays only) // Manhattan
Declines: office furniture, futons, mattresses, bed frames, plastic or metal furniture, IKEA-type stuff, large appliances
Sofa a little worse for wear? Whether it’s a single item or multiple ones, the CDP team offers a pick-up service for all your worn out furniture. Book online or via phone to schedule a pick-up time, and they’ll do all the heavy lifting from here – ensuring that your old movables are disposed of in the most responsible, professional, and eco-friendly way possible.
Pickup: for a fee // city-wide
Declines: anything known to be infested with bed-bugs (but can be picked up and disposed of when they have been treated and there is no longer an active infestation)
It’s strange that we have a harder time parting with the clothes we seldom wear. A t-shirt I’ve worn a hundred times, somehow, is less valuable for me than a dress I’ve worn twice. There are garments in my closet that I know I’ll never wear again, and yet the thought of getting rid of them is difficult. These are exactly the kinds of clothes we should be giving to good causes – the ones in excellent condition that just don’t serve a purpose anymore. Fashion plays a very real part in coloring our experiences, and donating your things to one of these organizations will sustain this pattern in greater numbers.
Founded in 2007 by a group of young professional women working in NYC, WGIRLS works with under-served women and children in the city. Among their numerous initiatives, the organization launched the G.L.A.M. project as a service to provide new or gently-used evening gowns to high school seniors. They accept all sizes, and especially appreciate black dress donations.
Donations are currently on hold and will resume in the fall of the 23-24 school year
photo courtesy of WGIRLS
*For wedding dresses, we suggest checking out Brides across America – a service we’ve previously covered that focuses on vintage bridal wear for military brides.
Bottomless Closet describes their work as the connection that inspires and guides disadvantaged New York City women to enter the workforce and achieve success. Since its inception in 1999, Bottomless Closet has helped over 46,000 women in need by offering them the tools and resources they need.
Donations are received on an appointment drop-off basis.
You can mail in your donations to Agentcy, who in turn provide clothing to disadvantaged youth ages 16 to 25 across town. The clothing collection is just one of their many endeavors – here, they’re looking for gently used items like blazers, suits, skirts, and shirts for young adults looking to make their debut on the job market.
With locations in Manhattan and Queens, DFS designs and delivers services geared towards empowering women in the work place. The New York branch of the global organization offers employment retention services and suiting – to the latter, they accept gently used, office-core garb.
Donation drives are held regularly – click here for a list of upcoming donation days
Mail it in
Prefer to donate from home? For Days take-back bags are the way to go here. In addition to designing and selling their own collection made entirely from recycled fibers, the clothing label offers take-back bags for $20, which you can order, stuff full of old clothes, and send back. For Days will go through the donations and sort for reuse and recycling – they won’t tally your personal usage data for you like FABSCRAP does, but the fact that they accept all clothes from all brands makes it a pretty convenient way to clean out your closet.
Photo courtesy of For Days
Think we missed something? Tell us what you’d like to see more of, or let us know about any NYC waste warriors we didn’t cover. DM us on Instagram or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org