Where Do Your Clothing Donations Go?

Time to make fast fashion a problem for its makers, not charities
Textile waste a major source of landfill and pollution. Credit: Swapan Photography/Shutterstock

Giving away your used clothes seems like an easy enough, eco-friendly idea, right? You get to clear out your closet, get rid of clothes you no longer wear, and give someone else a chance to use it. 

You plan to drop your clothes off at a donation center, where someone else buys them, therefore prolonging the clothing’s life and decreasing the amount of textile waste disposal. Alas, your intentions are good, but this is not the process most Goodwill donations follow every time. 

“With Americans buying and discarding clothing at record rates — we buy about five times more clothing than we did in 1980, and threw away 40 percent more textiles in 2009 than we did a decade earlier — donation centers have far more stuff than they could ever realistically resell” (Lauren Indvik– What Really Happens To Your Clothing Donations?). 

The world, as a whole, consumes about 80 billion tons of clothing per year. Regarding Americans, each person only donates about 15% of their clothing, the remaining (12.8 million tons per year) go to landfills. According to Jose Medellin, director of communications for Goodwill NY/NJ– stores in New York and New Jersey collected more than 85.7 million pounds of clothing donations yearly. This rate of clothing donations, along with the fact that his Goodwill region is only 1 out of about 150 other regional organizations across America and Canada is an eye-opener. 

Just a little bit — around 20 percent — of Americans’ pre-owned clothing, including those sent to transfer shops, are being sold at used retail outlets and second-hand shops in the U.S. Unmistakably more are being dispatched to creating regions like sub-Saharan Africa, South America and China — in fact, the U.S. sends away an entire billion pounds of used clothing every year, making it our eighth biggest fare — where garments are purchased in 1,000-pound bundles, arranged and afterward exchanged to the nearby masses, now and then unleashing ruin on neighborhood enterprises by removing employments from nearby material laborers. Another 45 percent is reused through one of the U.S’s. 3,000-odd material reusing offices. What’s more, the rest? That winds up in landfills. Eleven percent of gifts made to Goodwill in 2014, for instance, were labelled unsellable and taken to landfills — around 22 million pounds in all — costing the association a great many dollars in transport charges and different costs. (Lauren Indvik– What Really Happens To Your Clothing Donations?)

fast fashion landfill, recycling, waste
Fast Fashion In Landfills- Trusted Clothes.com

Because of the many clothes that are directed to the Goodwill Donation bins, there is a large process of elimination workers use to take out clothing fit for reselling. 

The process begins as soon as you drop off your clothes. Workers automatically remove wet/ mildewy clothing, and then organize the rest of the clothing on the shelves. The clothes have 4 weeks in the store, and if they are not bought within this time period, they are moved out to the Goodwill outlets. Here, the prices are kept extremely low, to encourage buying. The goal is to keep as much clothing out of the landfills as possible. From the outlets, clothes move onto the auctions, which are live events. The clothing that is still not sold in the auctions, go to textile recyclers, where the clothing either gets resold into the US used clothing industry or overseas. Sending the clothing overseas is risky for the workers on the receiving end, because it minimizes the job availability and income in the factories. If not resold or relocated, it is made into scraps for furniture or insulation. Any clothing that does not go into either of these categories, is sent to the landfills (Here’s What Does Goodwill Do With Your Clothes). 

The spokesperson for S.M.A.R.T. (a trade association that works to recycle textiles), Kathy Walsh believes that nearly 95% of all clothing can be reused and recycled. It all depends on how you handle it.

Never throw your clothing into the garbage. Instead, go to Goodwill and donate them. Another option, instead of Goodwill, is to send them to friends and mutuals if the clothing is in good condition. Maybe you have used it enough for your lifetime, but the clothing could have a new life in another closet. For any clothing that is wet or moldy, contact a sanitation department and research the best way to ecologically dispose of them. 

The fastest way to reduce your footprint, is to buy less clothing overall. To reduce clothing waste, the most effective idea is to keep a sustainable closet. 

See 5 Tips For A Sustainable Closet

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