Home Fashion What really happens to the clothes sent to charity?

What really happens to the clothes sent to charity?

donating clothes to charity
Why donating clothes to charity isn't always good idea. Image via social media.
donating clothes to charity
Why donating clothes to charity isn’t always good idea. Image via social media.

Why you should buy long-lasting, high-quality clothing: How to make your clothes last & why donating your clothes to charity isn’t always a good idea. 

From browsing online and trying things on in shops, to putting together a stylish outfit with the new purchases, many of us love the experience of shopping, buying and wearing new clothes. However, the reality is that most of us own too many. Fashion is a major player in the US business industry, with Americans on average now buying a new piece of clothing every five days. Fast fashion is the problem here, as clothes are being thrown away in favor of cheap readily available styles. On top of that, some garments naturally become worn so we’ll want to get rid of them.

We could simply throw them away, but many of us prefer to donate them to charity. This is considered a better option because not only does this support a good cause, but it also means clothes are being reused rather than sent to landfill — something we all want to avoid in light of the climate crisis. But, according to the Council for Textile Recycling (CTR), less than 20% of clothes are sold in stores. If this is the case, what happens to the rest of them?

Most clothes are exported or recycled

CTR found that roughly 80% of charity clothing donations are sold to recycling services. Overall, only 5% ends up as waste. You might be thinking that’s good news, right? But that’s still a lot of clothes going to landfill. Figures from 2014 found that Americans donated about 4.7 billion pounds worth of clothing to charity every year — 5% of that is still a huge 235 million pounds. And given that the world is far more eco-conscious than it was back then, it’s fair to assume that number is probably significantly higher now. 

So, why can’t all clothes be recycled? The problem is that garments are often made with multiple materials which makes it hard for companies to properly separate and recycle them. Sorting different textiles by hand is hard, time-consuming work and requires a skilled team, so sometimes it’s more efficient to just throw items away and send them to incineration. Mildew or tough stains also mean textile mills are unable to recycle some donated items.

Roughly 45% of the donated clothing that isn’t recycled is reused and repurposed, with most being shipped overseas and resold in second-hand clothing at street markets in underdeveloped countries. However, this practice has its flaws as it takes custom away from the local businesses there as exported items are sold at a much lower price.

How to increase the chance of your clothes being sold in the shop

Before filling a bag full of clothes, check what the charity accepts first. For example, most will not accept underwear, items with funny smells, or anything with marks or spots. Only give away items that are in good condition, with no stains, holes or tears, and clean. We recommended giving your old clothes a wash before dropping them off so that items are fresh and more likely to be taken home by a new owner.

What can you do with clothes that aren’t donated to charity?

Reuse them

Reusing items is different from recycling, but it’s actually more sustainable. Even some dedicated recycling companies prioritize reusing first and foremost, like Bywaters, who explain: “As the recycling process typically requires energy, it’s better to send your items to be reused where possible […] It also limits the need for raw materials and reduces how much waste enters landfill — which decreases greenhouse gas emissions.”

While you can’t guarantee your charity donations will be bought and reused, you can reuse them yourself. For example, with some crafty scissor-work, you can turn old t-shirts into a duvet cover, change the style of a top or pair of jeans, or use your jumpers for cushion covers.

Care and repair

Rather than buying new clothing often, it’s best to make the most of what you already own by caring for items correctly. Aim to wash your clothes less as this drains items of their color and ruins the elastic. When you do wash items though, make sure you fill the drum with the appropriate amount of clothing to avoid wasting water or overfilling it — the latter might mean your items aren’t washed properly.

donating clothes to charity
Why donating clothes to charity isn’t always good idea. Image via social media.

Another top tip is to turn dark clothing inside out when washing to prevent color fading. Once washed and dried, hang them in a cool and dry environment. This reduces the risk of bacteria growing, avoids wrinkling, and keeps them in good condition. You can restyle garments for many years before they become unusable, and even then, you might be able to repair them yourself, like if the item has a small tear or a button has become loose.

Keep them

The most sustainable clothes are the ones you already own. If you buy clothing made from high-quality materials in timeless styles, you won’t need to purchase as many new items. Simply keeping what you’ve got and finding ways to restyling outfits is the priority here. For example, it’s easy to take your dresses into the winter season by styling them with jumpers, thick tights and boots, ensuring you wear items all year round.

However, if you are to shop for new clothing, opt for slow fashion brands as these tend to be ethically-produced and can last longer if cared for correctly. As long as you buy long-lasting, high-quality clothing, you’re not going to be getting rid of pieces in a hurry.