What Happens to the Clothing You Donate?

We live in a consumer driven society where itís ďout with the old and in with the new.Ē This mantra is especially true when it comes to fashion Ė Americans love filling their closets with trendy new outfits, often clearing room by donating previous yearsí items to the needy.

While itís certainly better to try to find a second life for your used clothing than simply putting them in the trash, donít kid yourself into thinking youíre doing something particularly upstanding and charitable by donating them. After all, thereís not a lot of altruism in giving up your old crap, if itís intended as an excuse to replace it with new crap.

Where do clothing donations go?

As MSN reports, the bottom line is that thrift stores donít actually sell most of the clothes that are donated to them. People like to imagine their clothing going on the racks the next day, but stores, even the charitable ones, tend to reject most items for being not nice enough, not stylish enough or not valuable enough to resell. The Council for Textile Recycling estimates that†just 20 percent of donated clothing makes it back onto hangers.

So where do the rest of these items go? In a lot of cases, itís the dump. The EPA notes†that 84 percent of clothes wind up in landfills.

The clothing that isnít outright tossed goes through a depressing cycle. Some is given to outlets for bulk purchase. Then richer parts of Asia will take the vintage-like stuff that American rejected, Europe will take wealthy Asiaís rejects, and so forth until the most picked-over stuff reaches Africa.

Thatís right, the continent of Africa gets all those lousy t-shirts that no one else wants Ė in large quantities, no less. Despite that these are rejected goods, Africans buy more of this kind of clothing than that produced locally because they consider American clothing to be of better quality, even though thatís not the case. Consequentially, the clothing industry throughout Africa has collapsed in favor of these cheap hand-me-downs.

Beyond that, a decent percentage of clothing that is deemed unwearable gets repurposed as rags for auto mechanics or carpet padding. Though itís always great to find a second use for items before throwing them in the trash, make no mistake that these rags and pads will wind up in the landfill after a few uses anyway.

Itís getting worse

The cycle of donated clothing is only getting worse, primarily because Americans are donating more clothes than ever before. Again, thatís not an act of generosity, itís a sign of rampant consumerism: Americans are buying lots of cheap, flimsy clothing and passing it off to then buy more of the same.

Currently, the average American discards 80 pounds of clothing each year. Over the past two decades, the total amount of clothing that gets tossed out in the U.S. has doubled from 7 to 14 million tons.

Some charitable thrift stores are having a difficult time just sorting through all the donations at this point. Thereís so much low-grade attire that it can cost more in time to pick through it than the few good items ultimately earn the stores.

Long story short, the more junk people buy Ė and then donate Ė the harder it is for charities to get the useful, higher quality items into the hands of people who really need them.

Are clothes donations sending the wrong message?

Nowadays, charity-affiliated donation centers may be doing a bit of a disservice to the American public. When organizations provide an opportunity for people to ďfeel goodĒ about discarding their unwanted, cheap clothing, the easier it is for these people to justify buying more cheap items and repeating the cycle again.

Meanwhile, all of this cheap clothing wastes resources, hurts the environment and forces people in foreign countries to work in sweatshop conditions for poverty wages. Clearly there are other large factors to consider besides, ďI donated my old clothing, my conscience is clear.Ē

Iím not saying that itís a bad thing to donate old clothing, but if you want to be a truly responsible consumer, resolve to make smarter clothing purchases that will result in you having fewer items of clothes to donate in the first place.

176 comments

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a year ago

Even doing the right thing seems to be wrong.

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Joe Le Gris
Joe Legrisabout a year ago

Nice. It brings a strong argument for everyone going naked. I'm not sure I feel as ok as you about it. Thanks

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Marie W.
Marie Wabout a year ago

Bring back rag rugs.

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K S.
K Sabout a year ago

We can wear most things we buy for years. If we weren't driven by the need to make other people covet what you have, wear, drive , etc. things would be significantly more thoughtful about not putting things in the landfills. Super article

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Petra S.
Petra Sabout a year ago

Very good article!

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Lindsay Kemp
Lindsay Kabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer Habout a year ago

This article does kind of sound anti-clothes donation but it does good in many ways. Why waste what someone else can use. Clothing is donated for many reasons: shrink out of, grow out of, or even death.

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NitaAwaynoFwd L.
Nita Labout a year ago

Thank you.

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Caitlin B.
Past Member about a year ago

thank you

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Mari 's
Mari 'about a year ago

I always go second hand clothes shopping and it's saved me thousands over the years I can't even begin to tell you. I donate when I can to give back also. I think more people should do this. Please send US your clothes we could use them and know lots of people who do as well.

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