Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Doing Good by Donating Clothes - But Maybe Not Quite the Way You Expected

man donating bags of clothes

Ever wonder what happens to all the clothes you donate of Goodwill, The Salvation Army, or other worthy causes? The Green Guide answers that question. Here's the first paragraph; the whole article is worth a read.
Donating your used clothing to charities has always been the right way to keep clothing out of landfills. After all, Americans collectively trashed 9 million tons of reusable clothes, footwear, towels and bedding in 2005, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Solid Waste. But the clothing-donation chain is a lot more complex than donors realize, and many donations end up far from their intended destination as free clothes for the needy.
The article also provides information on other ways to find new homes for your used clothes. One option they don't list is clothing swaps.

[Thanks to Mary Beth from my local Green Moms Club for the pointer.]

[Photo from MrVJTod / Chris Young]


SUS said...

Thanks for this link. We always donate unwanted clothes, but trashed the totally-worn-out, no-one-would-want-this clothing items. I didn't want to insult anyone. From now on, whatever doesn't become a household rag will be donated with the better stuff.

Jeri Dansky said...

SUS, I'd check with the individual charity first, especially if it's a smaller group. I'm not sure all of them are set up to handle sales to graders.

For example, I just called my little local thrift store that raises funds for local seniors' programs. They donate clothes they can't use to Goodwill, but because of space limitations it's a strain on them to handle this kind of thing. If they notice the clothes are in poor condition at the time of the drop-off, they will gently refuse the donation and direct people to five other groups, including Goodwill, The Salvation Army, and St. Vincent de Paul.

And some charities prefer if you separate the obviously too-worn items from the rest.

Blue Yonder said...

During my short travels in West Africa, I saw the results of used clothing exports first-hand, and I was very uncomfortable with what I observed:

Huge bales of secondhand clothing being hauled around by vendors so that they could be sold (NOT given away to the needy, despite whatever the intentions of the original donors were).

The local textile industry that creates BEAUTIFUL indigenous printed and woven fabric designs, being depressed by the flood of cheap imports of ratty T-shirts, etc. from the developed world.

A small child in a rural tropical village wearing a t-shirt exhorting people to "Eat Washington Apples" (the sight created a bit of cultural/cognitive dissonance in my brain).

Also, this wasn't mentioned in the article, but I have read elsewhere that a significant fraction of goods donated to thrift stores just get thrown away, for the simple reason that they do not have the space or the money to store the huge volume of donations they receive.

(Getting on my soapbox now...) All this leads me to believe that we as a society need to give serious consideration to the most-ignored of the Three R's: "Reduce". The other two R's, "Reuse" and "Recycle", definitely have their place in the overall sustainability strategy. But when they just give us an excuse to consume more - as with clothing - they can sometimes serve to exacerbate the social and environmental ills fostered by our throwaway consumer culture - even while masking those effects from us and salving our consciences. (Ok, rant over!)

Jeri Dansky said...

Blue Yonder, thank you for the added perspective.

Regarding thrift stores throwing things away: Some people do seem to use them as dumping grounds, and there's not much anyone can do with moldy clothes or books, for example. But some stores have a policy of not dumping anything that has some life left in it; it always pays to check the policy of whatever place you're donating to.

And yes, the "reduce" part of reduce, reuse, recycle does often get short shrift. That's part of why it's so nice to see The Story of Stuff getting so much attention. And I'd also like to point people to The Thoughtful Consumer blog.

Anonymous said...

hi Jeri, nice job your are doing out there to help the poor in Africa. But the problem is these dresses never really get to the poor free of charge. some vendors claim its because of the custom duties they have to pay when these goods get to destination. It will therefore be wise to help these people right to the end i.e. up to the poit of deportation. I'm a social worker in Africa, Cameroon and which to find out how possible it is for me to acquire used clothings for the rural people in Cameroon. If you can help me in this like then, do well to contact me at or maybe give me some links that could be of help to me.thanks for all