Uses for old tights: managing hosiery waste
According to Halte à l'Obsolescence Programmée almost 130 million pairs of tights were sold in France in 2018 and pantyhose represents on average more than 7,315 tonnes of waste per year.
There are many different ways of dealing with this textile waste. However, some have a greater environmental impact than others.
In this article, we are going to talk specifically about post-consumer waste so that you can decide what to do next time you’re considering throwing out your pantyhose.
Myth: old tights can be recycled into new ones
Unfortunately, it is NOT POSSIBLE to recycle old nylon tights into new ones. When you see hosiery labelled as recycled this means that the nylon they are made from has come from another source such as fishing nets. It should be noted that recycled pantyhose cannot be recycled into new ones again. This is because once the recycled nylon is wrapped around the elastane (which gives your pantyhose stretch) it is not possible to separate the fibres again.
So, what can I do with my old tights?
Downcycling (a form of recycling) is the process by which items of a higher value are converted into something of less value.
The recycling of old tights into another product of less value is possible but limited. Waste can be collected and downcycled into other industries to create insulation and padding for homes and cars, for instance.
However, most people do not bring their pantyhose to textile collection centres. Only 10% of respondents said that they do this.
In contrast, upcycling is the process by which items of a lower value are converted into something of a higher value. In the case of old tights, it is possible to turn these into something nifty at home.
For instance, you can upcycle old tights into a tawashi sponge, headband, or soap bar bag to hang and lather up in your shower. Make sure to check out our tutorial on how to upcycle old tights into a macrame plant hanger. More to come!
To watch our video on waste management and get some DIY crafts inspiration to upcycle old tights, click here.
With this method, pantyhose can participate in energy recovery. This is because the majority of incinerators have been equipped to create energy to convert into electricity, heat or gas.
However, the use of incineration is not very sustainable, which explains why it is the penultimate option in the hierarchy of waste management.
Incineration risks generating toxic fumes, dust and acid molecules. Incinerators must adhere to the emission limit values set by the regulations.
Additionally, it bypasses the opportunity to recover the material which could be reinjected into the economy. Energy recovery should never replace material recovery where possible.
Incineration is, therefore, not a strong solution. In fact, policies are being implemented to make recycling more competitive than disposal (via incinerators or in landfills) by increasing taxes on activities that generate carbon emissions. In 2021, the General Tax on Polluting Activities (TGAP) on incineration increased in France from €8 / €20 (depending on the operating modalities) to €15 / €25 per tonne in to come into action by 2025.
At Billi London, we strictly prohibit incinerating tights.
In 64% of cases, women throw their old tights in the bin and 29% of household waste collected ends up in landfills.
According to the Science Learning Hub – Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaiao, nylon takes 30 to 40 years to decompose and according to Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program, monofilament nylon fishing lines take up to 600 years to decompose.
It is also important to note that this waste is never redirected to an incinerator. The hosiery remains in landfills.
Enhanced biodegradation is the solution championed by Billi London to reduce the harmful environmental impact of pantyhose that ends up in landfills.
Our hosiery biodegrades in a record time of around 5 years** compared to 40 to 100 years for traditional/recycled nylon pantyhose.
This means they biodegrade approximately 80% faster than traditional/recycled nylon tights.
According to UNISAN landfills will be maintained for up to 30 years after capping. In this period, biogases are released, collected and converted into energy. After approximately 30 years, landfills are closed and the biogases are no longer collected and converted into energy.
This is why enhanced biodegradable pantyhose that decompose in around 5 years are more advantageous than traditional/recycled nylon hosiery when they are sent to controlled landfills.
You can learn more about the biodegradability process of Billi London's pieces here.
*Zerowaste France "TGAP déchets"; GOUV, "Plan national des déchets - 2019".
**In landfill, reference system: ASTM D5511 - Std test.