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To the Jeans in the Back of My Closet

By Aubry Heinrich

To the old pair of blue jeans hanging in the back of my closet,

I’m sorry you haven’t seen the light of day in years. I’m sorry the dust bunnies have made their home in your frayed cuffs, and you are permanently creased from where you rest over the plastic hanger. You were once my favorite pair of Levi’s. You have yet to be worn this decade, but there is hope for you.

There is a recycling program giving life to old denim. Worn, tattered, and frayed, they will take the old denim resurrected from the innermost workings of closets and give it a new purpose – insulation made from a natural fiber.

“Cotton Incorporated is mindful of the impact in every step of cotton’s lifecycle,” said Andrea Samber, Director of Consumer Marketing – Brand Partnerships at Cotton Incorporated. “In 2006, we created Cotton’s Blue Jeans Go GreenTM denim recycling program, as a call-to-action to keep old denim out of landfills and turn it into something new.”

Protecting natural resources is more critical than ever. Cotton Incorporated is leading the charge for cotton’s sustainability and promoting recycling garments made from cotton.

“Cotton Incorporated’s messaging focuses around knowing what our clothes are made of, and when they’re made from cotton, they’re natural, durable, and recyclable,” Samber said. “We educate directly and amplify the message through co-branded programs with brands, retailers, and other organizations to make it easy to recycle worn-out denim. Whether locally or by mail, consumers can keep their denim out of the landfills and have it recycled to become an insulation material for various applications.”

Consumers looking for a more sustainable product can rest easy knowing their denim purchases have another purpose after they are done wearing them.

“Serving as a turnkey way to engage the industry and consumers across the country actively, the program seeks to empower others to recycle their old denim as we create a movement for a greener world together,” Samber said.

The program connects environmental sustainability with helping others. As a result of the denim collected through the Blue Jeans Go Green program, Cotton Incorporated is able to work with organizations like Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit housing organization dedicated to building and improving houses for families in need of a home.

“Whether we are helping to build homes with Habitat for Humanity affiliates by providing natural Cotton fiber insulation made from recycled denim, organizing recycling drives, or raising awareness of sustainability,” she said, “we aim to be good stewards wherever we go.”

Many organizations recognize and participate in the Blue Jeans Go Green recycling program. A denim drive has even made its way into one of the largest organizations in Texas – the Texas FFA Association.

The organization’s core team selects a community service project each year. They chose the Blue Jeans Go Green program in 2021, encouraging students and their communities to recycle textiles and raising awareness of the importance of cotton sustainability. The partnership between the two organizations proved successful when thousands of FFA members and chapters brought their old clothing to be recycled through the program.

“In July, the Texas FFA Association held their annual convention in Fort Worth. Over 5,000 pieces of denim were brought in-person to the convention by the 11,000 convention attendees across Texas,” she said.

The more people join in on the effort to protect our environment, the better. Cooperating with organizations like Habitat for Humanity and the Texas FFA Association creates awareness for the program, demonstrating the cotton industry is committed to a sustainable future.

Consumers’ fiber, fabric, and fashion choices directly impact the environment. Through this denim recycling program, consumers can better understand how their decisions affect the Earth.

“The program continues to thrive over 15 years later because it’s been ground- ed in sustainability from day one, and it helps to close the loop on cotton’s circularity,” Samber said.

So, my dear, old pair of blue jeans, you will no longer occupy space in the back of my closet. I know you will find a new life. Not wasting away in a landfill, but keeping a family warm in a home and helping to keep the Earth a clean place to live.

Sincerely yours, A Consumer

How It Works

Cotton Incorporated, and the cotton fiber insulation manufacturer, Bonded Logic Inc., have worked together for over 15 years on the Blue Jeans Go GreenTM denim recycling program. In conjunction, they transform old denim clothing into insulation material for a variety of products like building insulation, thermal packaging insulation, pet bed and industrial mattress inserts, and more.

So, how does it work? Old denim can be brought to participating retailers, and other organizations holding events or activities for collection, or mailed directly to the program. Some participating retailers provide a discount to their stores upon bringing in worn denim garments for recycling, to get more customers involved. The program accepts any denim apparel – jackets, shirts, skirts, and of course, jeans, in any condition, colored, embellished, printed, stained, and even torn as long as it’s denim containing at least 90% cotton. Making it even easier, recyclers need not worry about the condition of their clothing. It is then gathered and sent to a fiber reprocessing facility in Arizona to be repurposed into something completely different.

“Once received, zippers, buttons, and hardware are mechanically removed, and the denim is reprocessed to a ‘shoddy’ fiber state and ultimately transformed into insulating material for various applications,” Samber explained.

Do you have old denim clothes looking for a new life?

Here are the retail stores now accepting denim for the Blue Jeans Go Green denim recycling program, ac- cording to the Blue Jeans Go Green website (

  • Thiesen’s
  • Anthropologie
  • American Eagle
  • Frank and Oak
  • Just Black Denim
  • Ariat
  • Industry Standard
  • Madewell
  • Pacsun

Or mail it in! In a partnership with Zappos’ charitable giving arm, Zappos for Good, together they offer an option for consumers to ship their old denim to be recycled for free. Scan the code to learn more about how to send your denim for recycling to the program for free.