What To Do With Old Backpacks & Bags?: 7 Easy Ways To Recycle

Carry On Circularity With These Tips On What To Do With Old Bags, Broken Backpacks, & Pre-Loved Purses

Wondering what to do with old backpacks, bags, and purses? 

Most broken or worn-out bags are destined for landfill where they will remain for years to come and pollute the environment. But they don’t have to. 

After all, bags help us carry our essentials, so it’s only right that we help carry on their lives in return.

While buying better quality bags can be key to longer shelf life, everything eventually reaches the end of its lifecycle and it’s what you do with it that matters. 

So if you’re thinking about what to do with old bags, leave the bin as the very last resort as you might still be able to find a use for them yet and keep valuable materials in circulation. 

From upcycling to mending and take-back schemes, we share some of the easiest ways to recycle your old bags. Buckle up! 

1. Repair Your Old Bags

What To Do With Old Bags by mauro_grigollo

A broken backpack or worn-out bag doesn’t have to be destined for landfill. Some of the most common problems like broken zip or fraying seams can be fixed yourself, with plenty of YouTube tutorials to guide your hand.

If it’s a designer bag or you don’t feel confident about mending it, getting it professionally fixed will be your best bet. The Seam is a London-based care and repair specialist service for clothing, leather accessories and bags. 

You tell them your problem and they’ll match you with a participating maker. Whether it’s beads coming loose on a Fendi bag or scuff marks on a leather satchel, there’s a specialist who can help. This service is currently only available to people in the UK but they have plans to expand in the future. 

Another option is to go back to the brand you bought the bag from as they may offer lifetime guarantees to keep their products out of landfill. If your bag is faulty or broken, you can send them in to be mended or recycled.

2. Upcycle Or Downcycle Your Bags

What To Do With Old Bags by devonanne

If your bag is beyond repair or you have no further use for it in its current state, take it as an opportunity to get creative. 

Perhaps that purse or handbag could be reinvented with some added beads, embroidery patches or pompoms? Or why not combine elements of two bags to make a unique accessory? 

Adding some personality to your old bags is a fun way to fall back in love with them. Pinterest is always a good place to start getting those creative juices flowing. 

You could harvest straps and buckles from battered leather bags and add them to other bags or turn them into bracelets, napkin rings, bookmarks or dog collars. 

For larger pieces of leather fashion them into tool belts, wallets or chef knife storage. As for what to do with an old backpack, you could turn it into car storage that can be attached to the back of the seat. 

Cut up softer fabrics and use them for patchwork or cushion cases. Tougher fabrics may be useful for wrapping up other gear to protect it or turning them into smaller pouches. 

Why not keep any fabrics you like, tough or not, as patches to repair other bags, clothing and other items?

3. Donate Old Bags & Purses In Good Condition

What To Do With Old Bags by Robin Edqvist

If your bag is still in good condition (e.g. nothing is broken and it only looks lightly used after a clean-up), you could donate it. 

Take purses, handbags and satchels to your local charity shop. They’re always useful for everyday gear. 

Your backpack could also be donated. If it’s small, it may be suitable as a school bag and if it’s designed for outdoor use, drop it off at the beginning of spring to ensure it’s available in time for camping and hiking season. 

As for where to donate old backpacks made specifically for the outdoors, try UK organisations like Kitsquad which helps people from a low-income background enjoy the great outdoors. 

If you’re in the USA, Outside Magazine’s Gear Up, Give Back™ program does the same thing. Check what is and isn’t accepted, then print out a label online—all with far less effort than it took to pick the perfect backpack when initially buying it.

Rohan’s award-winning programme Gift Your Gear also collects second hand outdoor gear for charities. 

4. Sell Old Bags For Cash

What To Do With Old Bags by Antoni Shkraba

Wondering what to do with old designer purses or have good-quality bags collecting dust? Why not collect cash instead by selling them? 

These days it’s never been easier to sell your preloved accessories and clothing online with marketplaces like Vinted and eBay. 

For what to do with old designer bags, Vestiaire Collective or Rebag may be more suitable if you’re looking to get a good price as they work exclusively with designer accessories. 

For all other bags, you could try Vinted, Depop, or even just eBay, which is great if you’re trying to rehome a bag with a specific function (like climbing backpacks) or a somewhat rare style niche.

Other ways to sell include the Facebook marketplace for communities in your area. There are also Facebook groups for buying and selling vintage or designer bags. 

Just be aware that you might not have the same seller/buyer protections as on eBay or Vinted, so exercise caution.

5. Recycle Old Bags, Backpacks, & Purses

What To Do With Old Bags by Elena Belykh

Can you recycle backpacks? 

It depends. 

Most backpacks are composed of different elements like polyester, nylon, polypropylene, PVC, cotton, canvas, leather and aluminium so they will have to be broken down and sorted into different parts when properly recycled. 

The good news is most of these materials (save for things like PVC…as if we needed another reason to avoid it) can be recycled in some form. 

Depending on the materials, you might be able to get away with recycling your backpack as textiles. If you’re unsure, go to your nearest recycling facility and ask them if they can do backpack recycling. Chances are, they’ll say no since municipal services rarely deal in textiles, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

You might have better luck looking for textile specific recycling drop boxes, like those by TexGreen or Planet Aid.

The same applies to your old handbags and purses. Again, ask your local centre if they will take them as textile waste. 

The one tricky material is leather. While it is technically recyclable, recycling facilities need specialist equipment to turn old leather bags into new products. 

What about what to do with old reusable bags made from plastic? 

Some supermarkets like Aldi, Tesco, and Sainsbury’s have recycling bins for soft plastics, but unfortunately, cloth and Tyvek-type reusables don’t fit this bill.

Instead, if the bags are still good, rehome them! You can even pass them along to someone walking out of the grocery store with a cart full of plastic bags as your way of encouraging a little change.

If they’re not still usable (think: holes and broken handles), ChicoBag’s Pay It Forward program will recycle reusable bags of any kind or condition.

6. Make The Most Of Take-Back Schemes

What To Do With Old Bags by dragana991

Stop, before you aim your bag at the bin. Does the brand you bought it from have a take-back scheme for preloved bags? 

An increasing number of sustainable brands are considering the afterlife of their products, helping their customers recycle waste responsibly, and improving the circularity of their materials. 

In a recycling or take-back scheme, you send in your preloved items from the brand in exchange for a discount or credit towards a replacement in their store. The product’s condition is up to the brand. 

Some of them accept broken or worn-out items while others only want products that are in good condition. 

Some brands only take their own products while others may accept items from other brands. You will have to read the terms and conditions of each take-back scheme to see what they will accept. 

So, which bag brands do take-back schemes? 

Patagonia’s Worn Wear Program lets you send in preloved Patagonia gear. If eligible (i.e. a newer style that can be resold), you could get up to 50% off the retail price in store credit. If not eligible (as in damaged or too old), they can recycle your gear to prevent it ending up in landfill, though you won’t get any credit in return.

The North Face has a similar Renewed scheme where you’re invited to bring your old gear to participating stores and you’ll receive a $10 voucher to use in-store. You’ll need to become an XPLR Pass™ member to do this. 

It’s still early days for take-back schemes, but it’s still worth checking the brand you bought your bags from in case they will accept or repair old gear. 

7. Reuse Old Bags Around The Home

What To Do With Old Bags by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦

Just because you might not wear your bag out and about doesn’t mean it no longer has a use. 

Any old bag could be used for storage, whether bedding or bric-a-brac. Backpacks could find a new purpose, such as gym bags or shopping bags. 

If you always like to be prepared in a pinch, you could fill a backpack with emergency supplies and essentials and turn it into a ‘go bag’ in case you need to leave in a hurry. 

Holdalls could store bed sheets, books, toys or gardening tools. You could also use them as extra moth-proof storage for summer or winter clothes. 

As for what to do with old purses, you could keep them by the front door for keys and other essentials so you don’t forget them. Or they could start a new life as a makeup bag or toiletries storage. 

For a dash of creativity, handbags and totes could be turned into decorative planters for your flowers. It may only be a suitable accessory for houseplants, depending on the materials. 

Wondering what to do with old tote bags? 

Cotton tote bags are always useful for all types of storage. Use them for groceries or keep a pair of shoes in them. Take one on holiday to separate dirty laundry, use it as a packing cube to keep your luggage organized, or wrap up precious souvenirs. 

You could even turn tote bags into reusable and ready-to-go wrapping paper, particularly if they have a fun print or design. There are no end of uses, so the question is: how creative can you get? 

Closing Thoughts On What To Do With Old Bags

Hands up who else has multiple bags for all aspects of life whether it’s shopping, travelling, working, going to the gym or everyday errands? 

Good bags are as essential as they are practical but let’s not beat about it, we live in a throwaway society. 

Every day newer, shinier and smarter bags are entering the market. It’s easy to replace bags we own or treat them like a fashion statement and buy new bags to pair with particular outfits. 

The problem is what to do with the old bags when we no longer have any use for them. There still isn’t a practical recycling solution so most end up in the bin.

At best, these are wasted resources but at worst toxic chemicals (such as PFAS in outdoor gear, volatile organic compounds in leather, or dioxins in PVC) could be leaching into the environment. 

Hopefully, these seven tips have given you some inspiration and ideas to responsibly recycle your old bags instead. 

If you don’t have any old bags begging to be rehomed yourself, give this article a share anyway, as there’s sure to be someone in your life with two too many totes.