What to Do with Old Backpacks: Practical Guide on Repurposing and Recycling

Last updated on May 1, 2024

Discover innovative and eco-friendly ways of breathing new life into your old backpacks through creative overhaul, repurposing, and recycling strategies.

Key takeaways:

  • Assess the condition of your backpack before deciding what to do with it
  • Consider recycling or upcycling your old backpack
  • Repair and revitalize your backpack for extended use
  • Donate or sell unwanted backpacks to give them a new life
  • The environmental impact of discarding backpacks and the benefits of responsible disposal
1of 6

Assessing the Condition of Your Backpack

Start by giving your backpack a thorough once-over. Examine it for any signs of wear and tear, such as frayed edges, torn fabric, or broken zippers. Check for holes or stains that may affect its functionality and appearance.

Assess whether the backpack’s issues are purely cosmetic or if there are structural problems that compromise its use. Determine if making repairs is within your capabilities or if professional help is needed. Reflect on whether the effort to fix it aligns with the pack’s sentimental or monetary value.

This initial evaluation will guide you towards the most suitable action, whether that’s fixing, upcycling, donating, selling, or responsibly recycling your backpack.

2of 6

Recycling or Upcycling Old Backpacks

When the wear and tear on a backpack make it less suitable for its original purpose, consider recycling or upcycling as eco-friendly alternatives to disposal.

Recycling Fabric: Some organizations specialize in breaking down textiles to their fibers for reuse. Check with your local recycling center or textile recycling programs about their capacity to process backpack materials.

Upcycling Strategies: With a bit of creativity, different parts of an old backpack can serve new functions. For example, zippers and buckles can be salvaged for craft projects, while durable fabrics can be repurposed into pouches, tool belts, or even patches for other gear.

DIY Projects: There are countless tutorials available for those interested in do-it-yourself projects. Transforming an old backpack into a pet carrier, planting pot, or a personalized tote bag are just a few of the countless possibilities.

Corporate Recycling Programs: Certain outdoor gear brands offer their own recycling programs. They accept old products and ensure that the materials are either repurposed or recycled responsibly. This can sometimes be in exchange for a discount on future purchases.

Remember, by choosing to recycle or upcycle, you’re not only giving your backpack a second life but also contributing to a reduction in waste and the promotion of a more sustainable lifestyle.

3of 6

Repairing and Revitalizing Backpacks

Breathing new life into an old backpack can be a rewarding project. Small tears or holes can often be patched using fabric patches or sewing. For non-textile parts like zippers or buckles, replacement parts are available at craft or outdoor stores. Sometimes, a local tailor or shoe repair shop can assist with more complex fixes.

Refreshing a backpack doesn’t stop at repairs; consider giving it a deep clean or customizing it with fabric paint, pins, or embroidery for a personal touch. Such revitalization not only extends the accessory’s life but also promotes a culture of reuse, reducing the need for new resources and the stress on landfills. Remember, a well-maintained backpack can serve you well for many years, revealing the true value of repair over replacement.

4of 6

Donating or Selling Unwanted Backpacks

If your backpack is still in good condition, passing it on can give it a new lease on life and prevent unnecessary waste. Many charitable organizations welcome gently used bags for those in need, including students and homeless shelters. Before donating, ensure your backpack is clean and in functional condition.

Consider selling your backpack if it’s of a reputable brand or has a unique design. Platforms like eBay, Craigslist, or even local Facebook selling groups can be perfect venues for this. Selling your backpack not only extends its useful life but also puts a little cash back in your pocket.

In case you’re thinking of helping in a more targeted manner, look for school drives or local non-profits that specifically request school supplies. There’s always a high demand for backpacks when the school year starts.

Remember to remove any personal items and give it a thorough cleaning. This small effort significantly increases the chance of your backpack being reused and appreciated by someone else.

5of 6

Environmental Impact of Discarding Backpacks

While it’s easy to overlook, the disposal of backpacks poses a significant environmental challenge. Backpacks are often constructed with a mix of materials, including fabrics, metals, plastics, and sometimes leather. When these items end up in landfills, they can take centuries to decompose. Moreover, the synthetic materials can release toxins into the soil and groundwater, contributing to pollution and habitat destruction.

Metals, which are used for zippers and buckles, require energy-intensive processes to mine and refine. These processes contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and ecological degradation. By discarding responsibly, we mitigate these issues.

Furthermore, the dyes and treatments applied to backpack materials can contain harmful chemicals, which pose environmental health risks upon decomposition or incineration. Choosing to recycle or upcycle can significantly diminish the ecological footprint of your trusty carryall.

Consider the bigger picture—every backpack saved from the landfill is a small victory for the planet. Simple choices in the lifespan of our belongings, including how we dispose of them, collectively create a ripple effect towards a sustainable future.

6of 6


How do you recycle old school bags?

Old school bags can be effectively recycled by either donating them to a local recycling center, reusing them in your household, or creatively repurposing them into beautiful crafts to prevent them from entering landfill spaces.

What do you do with a backpack?

When no longer required, a backpack can be repurposed for storage, donated to less privileged individuals or organizations in need, or recycled via proper textile recycling processes when in an unsuitable condition.

Can you recycle rucksacks?

Yes, rucksacks can be recycled if they are no longer in good condition or desired.

Are there specific charitable organizations that accept used backpack donations?

Yes, organizations like The Backpack Project, American Recycled Clothing, and School on Wheels accept used backpack donations.

How can you creatively repurpose outdated backpacks at home?

Outdated backpacks can be repurposed at home creatively by transforming them into portable garden kits, storage cubes, insulated lunch bags, or travel kits.

What eco-friendly materials can replace traditional fabric in backpack manufacturing?

Eco-friendly materials that can replace traditional fabric in backpack manufacturing include organic cotton, recycled polyester, hemp, recycled nylon, and Pinatex (pineapple leather).

Related reading:

Read more

Read more

Read more

Read more

Read more

Read more

Table of Contents