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Can Yarn Be Recycled?

Learn what to do with yarn scraps when the answer isn't so easy.

By: Kristina Kittelson, Editor, AllFreeKnitting.com
Updated June 06, 2018
Can Yarn Be Recycled
Can Yarn Be Recycled

While environmentalists everywhere are worried for the state of our planet, the spread awareness of global warming, deforestation, and other global concerns has led to a surprising increase in recycling. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 34.6% of generated municipal solid waste was recycled and composted in 2014 compared to just 25.7% in 1995 and a staggering 6.4% in 1960. Though we're producing more waste now than ever, the upward trend in recycling is encouraging.

It's probably at least partially this trend that makes you stand in front of your garbage can, look at your yarn scraps and wonder, "Can yarn be recycled?" The truth is that unfortuantely, no, yarn cannot be recycled... at least, it can't be thrown in the recycling bin and magically turned into new yarn. Waste Management gives us a short, handy list of what can be recycled: metals, paper, cardboard, glass, plastics, batteries and bulbs. But wait! Don't sigh in defeat and dump those yarn scraps in the garbage can. There's plenty more you can do with them.

How to Donate Yarn

My favorite way to dispose of partial skeins of yarn that I know I'm not going to use is to donate it to my local charity organization. I've even bought grab bags of half-skeins (and some full!) at Goodwill multiple times. Donating the yarn itself is an excellent option because you never know what other knitters or crocheters can have in store for it. There's no hard-and-fast rule as to how much yarn needs to be left in the ball for you to donate, since each charity shop has their own rules and regulations, so ask your local charity shop what they'll accept. If you cannot, or don't get a straight answer, I'd recommend trying to make sure at least half of the skein is still intact before you donate it.

However, that's not the only option for donating yarn! If you're on AllFreeKnitting, you're obviously a creative individual who loves to knit, and maybe even crochet, so you can turn those yarn scraps into something amazing to donate to charity. Many chemo caps can be made out of partial skeins, and local hospitals will often accept knit baby hats, which take so little yarn to create that you can wipe out your yarn scraps in just a few afternoons on dozens of hats. There are even organizations dedicated specifically to these sorts of things! Check out our list of knitting charities for incredible, heart-warming ways to recycle your yarn.

Things to Make With Yarn (Without Knitting!)

Maybe you have too little of the same yarn to donate or create even the smallest project out of... in fact, maybe you only have a few yards of this yarn, a few inches of that yarn, and you've been keeping it all in a big, plastic bag, waiting for a use for it all (guilty). If you live in an area with a lot of beautiful little birds and have considered leaving them out for mama birds to build their nests, please don't; according to goodknitkisses.com, yarn scraps can be deadly for small birds, who can get themselves tangled up and strangled in your leftover yarn. Even if your intentions are good, let's keep the small yarn scraps indoors and try some of the following projects to use them up.

  1. DIY Plant Hanger Finger Knitting Project

    Can you finger knit? If not, it's super easy to learn and an excellent way to use up your yarn on smaller projects. Hanging plants are super in right now, and there's no need to go out and buy an expensive hanger for your lovely pots if you have just a bit of yarn, and maybe a few leftover beads if you're feeling creative. The benefit to this kind of project is that you can give them away as gifts so easily since they're so on-trend!

  2. Yarn Covered Coat Hangers

    While yarn bombing the world is a bit of a controversial subject, you can yarn bomb your own home and it won't be seen as taboo at all! A great way to reuse some old scraps of yarn without adding to the world's waste is to wrap up a couple of old wire or plastic coat hangers in your yarn. Not only will you add a pop of exciting color to your bedroom or entryway closet, but it's super easy to do and only takes glue or a bit of tape... aside from your yarn scraps, of course.

  3. How to Knit a Pom Pom

    Pom poms are great uses of yarn when you have more than just a few yards of a skein left, but not enough to comfortably use it in any of your favorite projects or a scrapbuster. If you've knit a hat recently, you can use the rest of the yarn to whip up a pom pom or two for the top, or even attach pom poms to a knit blanket for a cute, bohemian effect, but my favorite use for pom poms is this Pom Pom DIY Rug from FaveCrafts!

  4. DIY Yarn Wig

    Do you have a little one at home, or maybe a grandchild you love to spoil? Making her favorite doll a little wig is one of the cutest and most creative ways I've seen for recycling yarn. No need to fret if your leftover yarn isn't either yellow, brown, or black—your child is bound to adore doll wigs in crazy colors, too. I'll bet even variegated yarn would be cute!

  5. How to Make Yarn Tassels

    Tassels are perfect for recycling yarn since they take even fewer yards of yarn than pom poms, and they make great party decorations! If you have some black and gold yarn you need to recycle, you can make yourself a garland of tassels for your next New Year's party. Save some green and red for a festive Christmas mantel decoration, or even save your favorite color for your next birthday party! If you have a child, yarn scraps that match his or her bedroom can also make cute and fun room decorations for them.

  6. DIY Stitch Markers

    Before I bought myself a set of locking stitch markers, I would take 1-2 inch scraps of yarn, tie them in a loop, and use them as DIY stitch markers! The truth is that they work just as well as plastic stitch markers, as long as you're not trying to use them on an actual stitch of yarn, like you might do while crocheting. For a knitter's usual purpose of marking a spot between two stitches on the needle, these work beautifully.

What to Do With Yarn Scraps: 8 Knitting Patterns

Scrapbusters! You might have heard the term "scrapbusters" or "stashbusters" before, and essentially what these kinds of patterns are for is using up the last of your yarn in creative and unique ways. These patterns either use just a small amount of yarn, so you can create a single, tiny knit item, or they use small amount of various kinds of yarns for a larger, yet still cohesive (or unique and eclectic) project. We have a huge selection of scrapbusters here on AllFreeKnitting, so I've picked some of my favorites to share with you.

French Inspired Knitted Coasters

Who says stashbusters need to look kitschy? These knit coasters look totally intentional, and they're a beautiful way to recycle yarn if you're concerned about the integrity of your home decor. Each coaster takes only a few yards of yarn, so even if you have just a quarter of a skein left over in two or more colors, you can make a whole set for your living room.

Bold and Beautiful Scrap Afghan

If you're a bit of a scrap hoarder like myself, a scrap afghan is an excellent way to burn through your yarn stash quickly. This pattern is a more elegant way to recycle your yarn since the modular pattern of the colorblocking is so clean and chic, but you could even just knit up a garter stitch blanket of your remaining yarn and work on it every time you finish another project and have a few yards left over.

Tea Bag Envelopes

I love this idea so much that I've knit several of these for myself and for my family! You wouldn't think to create a little cozy for your tea bags, but tea addicts everywhere are probably gasping right now. It's just a lovely way to keep your tea bag separate from everything else in your purse, as well as to easily find it among the slew of other things in there. You could even use different scraps to make differently-colored ones for various types of tea!

Quirky Rainbow Hat

If you've got a big personality and don't mind showing it, this is the project for you. This simple hat is made up entirely of yarn scraps, so it looks a little crazy—and it's supposed to! We recommend using one color intermittently throughout the project, between single blocks of color, since this helps bring all the colors in the hat together a little bit.

Stash Busting Cowl Knitting Pattern

This cowl legitimately looks like something that could have come out of Anthropologie or Urban Outfitters, and nobody will believe that you made it yourself out of leftover yarn you had sitting around the house. The best kinds of scrapbusters are the ones that don't look like scrapbusters, and this cowl pattern achieves that flawlessly. The bonus here is that it's super easy to knit!

Stash Buster Cushion

If you're looking for the ideal stitch for using up scrap yarn, it's easily the brick stitch. Since you're using a solid, darker color to break up the other colors both vertically and horizontally, the varying colors in this cushion pattern look fully intentional. I love that this cushion keeps a strict color pattern, because it looks less like a harried way to use up your yarn stash and more like a tasteful design choice.

Shifting Colors Dishcloth Scarf

A scarf like this one is perfect if you have small amounts of yarn in varying or gradiating colors. You can move from light to dark while knitting up this scarf, which gives it the trendy ombre effect and uses up leftover yarn quickly and efficiently. I love this scarf in monochrome color schemes, but you couuld even work your way down the rainbow if you have a bunch of differently-colored scraps.

Knit Shredded Wheat

Okay, sometimes you just need to have fun with your scraps. Knitting really isn't that deep; if you could knit cereal and perhaps use it to play pretend with your child or grandchild, why not? You can spice up your tea party with some knitted cookies or cakes, while you're at it. There are no rules in the scrapbuster game.

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