If, like me, you’re on a post-Christmas de-cluttering mission, you might be trying to figure out the best place for your old clothing. A shocking amount of clothing ends up in landfill each year – up to 92 million tonnes, according to Earth.org– so donating will help to prevent even more textiles ending up there.
Clothing banks (usually located in places like supermarket car parks) seem like an attractive option. Just drop them into the bin and leave them there: job done.
But what actually happens to your clothes once they’ve been donated? The answer is that it varies, depending on the particular company providing the clothing bank. Here’s an overview of what could happen to your old clothes.
Some charities or companies providing clothing banks include:
Each of these charities or companies will have their own policies around where the clothing ends up. But they do tend to follow a similar path, which starts with workers sorting the clothes or textiles into categories.
The clothing that is unmarked, in good condition, and with no holes or tears tend to go to European countries like Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and so on. These clothes tend to help families who are struggling financially.
Clothing that has small stains or minor wear and tear tend to be sent further afield to countries in Africa. These clothes will be distributed to help struggling families over there. Any school uniform tends to be sent to partner companies in African countries, and given a new lease of life.
Most companies try to use old bedding or textiles by turning them into rags, which are used in car washes and other places. This means that they’ll still be used, even if they can’t be donated as a whole set.
They may also be used as dust sheets for decorating companies.
How many clothes end up being reused?
This does vary, and it’s hard to tell for sure, as it depends on a lot of factors like the quality of the clothing donated and if the clothing is damaged during donation. Recycled Clothing Banks state that up to 85% of their donated goods end up with a new home, which is a good percentage.
There are a few downsides to clothing banks that you should be aware of.
- Some charities are less transparent than others about where the clothing ends up and how many items are actually donated. The best way to be sure is to double check on the clothing bin for the name of the company or charity, and give them a quick Google. The more transparent they are, the better.
- Some people don’t donate responsibly. If you’ve ever seen clothing dumped on the ground next to a donation bin, you’ll know what I’m talking about! Clothing and textiles can get ruined this way, so it’s best to only donate to bins that have room for your clothes to fit comfortably.
Is it better to donate or recycle?
Overall, it’s always better to give an item a second home, rather than to recycle it. There are processes involved in textile recycling that use energy, so donation is the environmentally conscious option.
Having said that, very stained or worn clothing shouldn’t be donated. Donating ruined clothing takes up time for the volunteers or workers, and they already have an influx of clothing to deal with.
There are other options if you’re not sure about donating to a clothing bank. Charity shops are an obvious choice, but if your local ones aren’t accepting donations, you could try women’s shelters or even speak to local health visitors; if you have old baby and toddler clothes, they can sell these for a very affordable price to struggling families.