What Materials Can Be Recycled To Make Socks (Sustainable Clothing)

People often say, “Clothes make the man” and while this is usually applied to how dressing determines impressions, the proverb can be taken to a deeper level. 

Since 2000, studies have shown that clothing production has doubled. Yet 85% of all textiles continue to be discarded year on year. Fashion production is even reported to be responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions

What would be truer than “Clothes make the man”, would be that “Sustainable clothes make the man”. Because it is not just about how you look but what exactly you are wearing that speaks volumes.

Sustainable Clothing

When you think about clothes, it is easy to think of larger pieces like pants, tops, dresses, overalls and suits rather than smaller pieces like socks.

However, while a pair of jeans can last many years, socks have one of the highest turnover rates as they become worn out quickly with regular use. They should be recycled responsibly at textile recycling centers or reused as rags for cleaning or ice/hot pack

For people who are environmentally-conscious, the search for socks that are made of all-natural biodegradable, animal-free and recycled materials or fabrics could be arduous. 

Socks are typically made with a blend of materials that include synthetic materials for their durability and stretchiness. 

One common misconception is that wool socks are an eco-friendly option.

On one hand, wool socks are mostly made of wool and a minuscule percentage of synthetic material which makes it fairly biodegradable. On the other hand, breeding and raising sheep takes huge amounts of land, water, feed and other resources. 

Thankfully, there are many environmentally-friendly alternatives for socks. Some of them are made of recycled materials that help you shop and wear sustainably. 

Materials That Can Be Made Into Socks

The following list highlights the wide variety of ethical socks that will help you do your part to mitigate climate change. 

Coffee Grounds

coffee ground recycle

For every morning cuppa that jolts you awake, a handful of coffee grounds remain and are usually disposed of by your favorite barista. However, entrepreneurial individuals have spotted this wasted resource and repurposed used coffee grounds into yarn for socks. 

One such company is Singtex that creates fabric from coffee grounds and recycled polyester through a proprietary process called S.Cafe®.

The company collects and processes coffee grounds from Starbucks outlets in Taiwan. The coffee grounds are then reduced to fine particles. This substance will undergo a separation process to extract coffee oil—the key ingredient that keeps the fabric odor-free. 

Once extracted, the coffee oil is mixed with melted chips of recycled plastic bottles. Pellets created from this blend will then be extruded into yarn for sock making. The result is odor-controlling, moisture-wicking, waterproof and insulative socks that are eco-friendly.

These socks can be found under the brand Ministry of Supply.

Another brand that manufactures socks from recycled coffee grounds is JavaSole®. Instead of recycled polyester, JavaSole® uses recycled cotton and a virgin cotton blend that uses less water to make as the blending ingredient to the coffee grounds. 

Ocean Waste

ocean waste recycle

Every year, a devastating 14 billion pounds of trash is dumped into the ocean. Most of it is plastic, which is non-biodegradable and eventually pose a deathly threat to marine life around the world. 

Together with ECONYL®, apparel brand Rockay retrieves waste from oceans and landfills that includes fishing nets, fabric scarps, carpet flooring and plastic. 

Once sorted and cleaned, nylon is recovered and processed to regenerate and purify the material. 

Their technology is actually able to restore the nylon waste to its original form, as if it were never used. 

A major plus point is that Rockay’s packaging is also made from sustainable materials. 

Teddy Locks also has a similar practice of collecting trash to turn into treasure. It recycles polyester and nylon from plastic bottles in the ocean and trash from landfills to transform into special blends of yarn for socks. 

In addition, its packaging is fully recyclable—from its tissue paper and stickers to its envelopes and mailers. 

As the socks are made completely in North Carolina, they travel less than 400 kilometers during the entire production process. A winner in contrast to brands that outsource production to various countries.

Plastic Bottles

plastic bottles recycle

While it is difficult to imagine the material used in plastic bottles can be made into comfortable socks, it has been proven to be possible and more than that, great for the environment. 

All around the world, polyester has become a popular fabric for clothing and socks.

It is known for its durability and also infamous among the environmentally-conscious for the same reason—they aren’t biodegradable.

Instead of producing the material in excess, Swaggr creates a plastic-based yarn from recycled plastic bottles floating about in our oceans to make athletic and crew socks. 

Once they have collected the plastic bottles, they sort them out based on quality. The plastic is cleaned, chopped into flakes and converted into plastic beads. After a process of melting, synthetic fibers are produced and woven into a yarn.

Socks are then made using up to 91% of this yarn. Each pair of socks comprises of more than two plastic bottles.

Socks from Girlfriend are also made from plastic bottles. Each pair of socks are made with 90% recycled plastic bottles. 

What’s more, after you have worn out your favorite socks, you can send them right back to Girlfriend’s recycling program, ReGirlfriend. Your pre-loved socks will be remade into a brand new pair for someone else to love and you get store credit in return.

Fishing Nets

Fishing nets recycle

It seems that our oceans are filled with misplaced waste that are full of potential. 

The proverbial truth of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” seems to stand true. 

Old fishing nets discarded in the ocean are a source of nylon that Healthy Seas Socks have been using in their socks. 

The brand is a collaborative effort between the volunteer divers of Ghost Fishing, yarn producer Aquafil and sock producer Star Sock to bring consumers comfortable and colorful socks made from high quality regenerated yarn. 

Part of Healthy Sea Socks’s profit goes right back into its cause—recovering ghost nets, setting up educational programs in schools and museums as well as emphasizing preventive measures. 

Textile Waste

Textile waste recycle

Throw a sock away and it may just be made into a new one. 

Over 90% of all discarded textiles can be recycled and given a second life. Yet many of them are found piling up in landfills, awaiting incineration that would produce carbon emissions that are bad for the ozone layer. 

Companies like Osom Brand repurpose textile waste into socks made of recycled fibers. 

Going the extra mile, the brand’s manufacturing process is kept waterless; a huge step in the right direction when you compare it to the 150 trillion litres of water used yearly in the world just for cotton production. The dyes that Osom uses in its socks comes from the recycled clothing as well. 

Brands such as Thought and Allbirds also offer socks that use about 20% of recycled polyester and nylon. 

These are signs that the clothing industry is slowly understanding that consumers are and want to be serious about sustainable shopping. 

Closing Thought

It is no doubt that when you take a look at the bigger picture, global temperatures have been increasing rapidly. 

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the five warmest years in the period of 1880–2019 have all occurred since 2015.

2019 has also been the second warmest year in 140 years and also marks the 43rd consecutive year that temperatures have been above the 20th century average. 

The global annual temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.07°C per decade since 1880 and more than twice that rate (+0.18°C) since 1981. 

Consequences include the gradual heating of the Earth’s land, water and air, extreme weather, the melting of ice, increasing sea levels, lower agricultural outputs and more. 

It is heartening to see numerous brands around the world doing their part to be sustainable, environmentally-friendly and as close to a zero-waste brand as possible. 

With many more options available, consumers now have to do their due diligence to be informed and make the right choices for the sake of our climate and limited resources. 

One food for thought is that demand always precedes supply.

The greater the demand for sustainable fashion, the greater the supply. Vice versa, the lower the demand for fast fashion, the lower the supply. 

What you choose to buy impacts market trends and shapes business directions. So choose wisely and think of the effects of your purchase beyond the wear that you enjoy.

We all have a part to play. 

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