The average American woman owns somewhere between one and a dozen purses. What happens to all those purses when they are replaced with a new one, or they wear out and need to go somewhere other than a drawer or closet?

Purses are a hard item to recycle. When it comes time to dispose of your old purse for any reason, look into options for reusing or even upcycling it.

What are purses made of?

Purses can be made from a wide variety of materials including leather, cloth, plastic and other synthetic materials, or a combination of several items. While rare, high end purses can be manufactured from snakeskin, crocodile and other exotic animal skins.

Purses are often adorned with buckles, zippers and decorations made of metal, rhinestones, crystals or anything else that will make them eye-catching.

All of these materials will not decompose in landfills. That means old purses will sit in them indefinitely. While purses are small, in total they take up plenty of space. That is why you should always recycle or reuse purses if at all possible.

How to recycle purses

Purses cannot be placed in your curbside bin or sent to a recycling company. The only way you will be able to recycle your purse is to buy one that can be returned to the manufacturer. The only purse manufacturer I can find with a take-back program is Timbuk2, which makes stylish messenger bags, totes, fanny packs, backpacks and diaper bags (no purses per se, but you may choose to use one of these items as a purse).

To recycle your bag, print a form from Timbuk2’s website, then put it in a box and ship it to them. You can also drop your bag off at a Timbuk2 store in Seattle, San Francisco, Venice Beach, Denver, Chicago or Toronto. There is no recycling fee; in fact, you can get a 20% discount on a future Timbuk2 bag.

Even if you cannot recycle your purses, there are still plenty of ways you can keep them out of landfills or incinerators. One of the best options is to get them to a person or organization that can reuse it.

How to reuse purses

Purses in good shape can be donated to thrift stores for resale. They can also be sold through garage sales, consignment stores or even Ebay. If you have children (or nieces and nephews) they might like your old purses for dress-up games.

If you have name brand purses that are reusable, you can consider donating them to a charity auction. Purse auctions such as the In the Bag event for the American Red Cross in McLean (VA) are a popular way for organizations to raise money. Do a search to see if anyone in your town organizes one. When you find one, ask if they will accept used purses in good condition or if they only want brand new ones.

How to upcycle purses

If you have any experience with leatherworking, you should be able to cut purses apart and use them for other things. Long straps can become belts and pet collars. Smaller straps can become fashionable bracelets or cuffs. The body of the purse can be fashioned into a wallet or decorative item.

Many purses are so cute on their own that you can look into ways to upcycle them in their current form. Put one up in your entryway or mud room for holding mail or the plastic bags you take when you walk the dog. Or put it in the hall closet to hold hats, scarves, mittens or reusable shopping bags.

Buy purses made of recycled materials

There are a ton of options for recycled purses. Some are purses you can make yourself from everyday second-hand materials. Others you can buy straight off the shelf if upcycling is not your thing.

Mine Pinterest for ideas of making purses from old jeans, t-shirts, sweaters, pull tabs from soda cans, candy wrappers, pillow cases, towels, cloth or plastic feed sacks, and much more. The possibilities are almost endless. If you have scraps of material leftover from your project, you can make smaller items like tablet and cell phone holders from it.

If you want a purse made from recycled materials but do not have the patience to craft it yourself, here are a few great options:

  • I have always been partial to products from Sara Bella, in part because the designer is from my home state of Oregon. Her purses and other totes, all of which are made from recycled plastic bags, are colorful and cute.
  • Etsy is a great place to look for upcycled purses, and that is where I found this recycled bag made from an old high heeled shoe. What could better for a woman who loves purses and shoes?
  • HipCycle had lots of fun purses and bags, but my favorite was this one made from a recycled firehose. It is a great way to put a very difficult to recycle product back to use. I imagine it would fuel some nice fantasies about the firemen who used to use it too.
  • Women who need a purse that is roomy and durable will appreciate this tote made from recycled vintage military tents and tarps. The bags have new buckles and other fixtures, but all that cloth comes from items that would be landfilled otherwise.