Where Do Your Donated Clothes Really End Up?

          You probably donate your clothing because they don’t fit, or you just don’t wear them enough anymore. You think that your clothes will go to someone in need, and it’s not wasteful. The reality is about 85% of donated clothing ends up in landfills, 15% is recycled or reused, and only 2% actually go to those in need. How is that possible?

          Donation companies and charities just don’t have the room for everything they receive or the ability to sell it all. Some charities, like Canadian Diabetes Association, operate their own donation boxes, but they don’t always have a place to sell them, so they contract them out to for-profit enterprises, like Value Village, without seeing or sorting the clothing themselves. Value Village then sorts out the clothing. They will sell about 15% of the donations in their stores, and the rest is either shredded and recycled into other products, or sold and shipped in bales overseas to countries in East Africa, in attempt to keep them from landfills. This might not sound so bad, but dumping clothing into these countries can put their local textile industries out of business, and overflow them with so much clothing, that they themselves can’t sell. Eventually, our waste will just end up in their landfills.

Just last year, Canada sent $17 billion worth of used clothing overseas to Africa. These used clothes have created a booming market in East Africa that the communities are heavily relying on for jobs. This was great at first because there were new jobs being created, but now that it has completely devastated their production industries, these countries just don’t want our used clothing anymore.

So, what is a solution to this problem? What can we do with our old clothing and how can we make sure they are going where we want them to?

Here are a few things you can do:

Do a clothing swap with friends or attend a local clothing drive.

Sell your clothing on online platforms like Depop or Poshmark, or at consignment shops in your area.

Be careful about where you choose to donate, and be more selective about what you donate.

Choose reputable charities like the Salvation Army or your local shelters, crisis centers, and churches. Make sure the clothing you are donating is in good condition, if it’s not wearable to you because it’s ripped or stained, why would it be wearable to someone else? But what can you do with these clothing pieces so they don’t go to waste? Some cities have created textile recycling programs that you can bring clothing that is unsuitable for donation or reuse.

The best thing we as consumers can do is to simply buy less. And when you do buy, buy from secondhand or vintage stores. When you buy secondhand, you are buying what is already out there, which not only helps to keep things local, but also helps to keep clothing from ending their lives in landfills.

Written by Cara Presta

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