Clothing donation is a great option for making space in your closet. We talk about the best donation spots when your goal is to reduce waste.Whenever the seasons change, it’s natural to want to switch up your wardrobe. You may decide to donate your unwanted clothes to charities. We’ve done some research so you know what to expect when you drop off goods at a donation bin and say good bye forever.
You may think that your donated clothing will end up on the racks of a Goodwill store if you donate to one of their locations. The truth is Goodwill only sells 20% of the things it collects. So what happens to the rest of it?
- 45% gets exported to developing countries.
- 30% is recycled for industrial uses like aborbants.
- 20% is recycled into fiber for home insulation, carpet padding, automotive materials.
- 5% ends up in the landfill, mostly because of mildew.
On one hand, this seems pretty good. Goodwill and St. Vincent DePaul both have some of the highest rates of keeping clothing out of landfills. This doesn’t mean the places they’re diverted to are that great, though.IS RECYCLING CLOTHING GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?
When weighing these options, it’s important to remember that recycling doesn’t permanently reduce waste. Unless it becomes something that’s used for a long time (like home insulation or carpet padding), it may still end up in a landfill after just one more use.
This is especially true for synthetic fibers like polyester, which are downcycled for materials which there may or may not be a market for. It’s far easier to recycle 100% natural fibers like cotton, linen, silk, or wool into materials of relatively higher value.
Recycling also requires energy, water, and other natural resources, so it’s not quite as eco-friendly as wearing clothes longer.
Exporting bales of clothing to developing countries may also sound like it will help the people in those countries. That’s not always the case. Many East African countries that once received used clothing shipments wanted to ban them in 2015.
The reason, according to Racked, is “they stymie local clothing manufacturing and negatively impact economic growth in low-income countries.” The ban was rescinded in 2019, but the aim to boost the local textile economy is still a long term goal for those countries.
Much of the imported used clothing also gets tossed in developing countries. According to Mashable, “In Ghana, about 40 percent of the bales of donated clothes are thrown out.”
Developing countries don’t always have safe, lined municipal solid waste facilities. Used clothing bales can end up in open dumps and the chemicals and synthetic materials can create leachate that contaminates local water. It can also release methane gas as the materials decay.THINK TWICE BEFORE YOU SHOP OR DONATE
It’s important to keep these things in mind when donating clothes, because it can help you make better choices to begin with. Donating is a better option than throwing clothes away, but it’s still not a great option.
Lifeminded promotes wearing used clothes and upcycling them. Upcycling means you create something new and more valuable, due to its creative design, by altering an existing garment. Wearing used clothes obviously extends the life of the garment just the way it is: no added energy, production, or overseas shipping required.PLACES TO DONATE USED CLOTHES
Chain clothing resellers
- The Salvation Army
- Value Village
- Community thrift stores
- Homeless shelters
Free stuff exchanges
People in need
- Vietnam Veterans Association
- Calls for Mutual Aid
Prom and Bridal dresses
Retail take back programs
- North Face
- Eileen Fisher