Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Donating Yucky, Unwearable Clothing: What Really Happens?

Someone recently made a comment on my Selling vs Donating: Why Bother? post, advising that Goodwill may throw away clothing that they cannot sell in their thrift stores. This disturbed me because most of the children's clothing I donate is stained, torn, or worn out, and probably not marketable in a thrift store setting. I felt very discouraged to think of all the piles of clothes I've donated to Goodwill, just to have them in end up in a landfill anyway! I decided to do a little research and find out what really happens to the old, yucky (but clean!) clothing I donate.

St Vincent de Paul: My commenter recommended St Vincent de Paul as an organization that sells unwearable clothing as rags. This sounds promising except that the nearest location is almost 50 miles away (in Fredericksburg, VA) I decided to focus on organizations closer to home.

Goodwill: I sent an email to Goodwill inquiring about what happens to clothing they are unable to sell in their thrift stores, and they responded quickly with a lengthy explanation:

We have over 2300 in the US and Canada. The items that don’t meet the quality standard are sometimes sold at Goodwill clearance centers, such as outlets or “by the pound” stores. Not all Goodwill headquarters have such centers, but where present, this is a good way to squeeze more value from donations, keep more product from reaching landfills, and fund our job training programs and employment placement services. Any remaining product is then offered for sale to textile recyclers, which extends the life of already manufactured goods.

Some of the used clothes sold to textile recyclers are recycled into rags, carpet fibers and other products. This is an environmentally sound process - we have seen estimates that textile recyclers divert approximately 2.5 billion pounds of used clothes from landfills.

PlanetAid: I also contacted PlanetAid as they operate in Washington, DC, not too far away from me.They emailed a message including this response:
The clothing and shoes that are donated to Planet are resold to international used clothing brokers. The profits derived from these sales are used to fund sustainable development projects in Africa, Asia, & Latin America.

The brokers that buy our clothes actually have sorting facilities. Once they receive a load from us, they sort through clothing. The stained, ripped, or unwearable clothing is sorted out and then it is resold to actual textile recyclers. The textile recyclers then use that material to make shop rags, carpet padding, insulation, and other by-product materials. As you can see, there is an extensive chain of recycling that goes on within this industry.

The Salvation Army: I couldn't find a contact email for The Salvation Army so I called them. According to the two representatives I spoke with, they sell the higher quality clothing in their thrift stores. Less desirable but still wearable clothing is baled and shipped around the world to areas in need. If clothing is soiled or completely unwearable, it does end up in the trash. Good to know!

This research has led me to reassess what I am donating. I'm donating clothing that is often not resellable in a thrift store, but it is still wearable. I cannot think of anything I've donated recently that would have gone into the trash. I think that most of my items (if not sold in the thrift stores) are being packed into bales and being shipped to people who will hopefully find them useful.

I'm glad I did this research and learned a little more about where these clothes are going after I donate them. We will stick with donating to Goodwill for the present because it is conveniently located very close to our home. It's nice to know that any of these organizations in our area will treat our donations responsibly and have multiple ways to reuse clothing and keep them out of landfills.

3 comments:

gpopp said...

While I have been working on my basement clean-up challenge, I too, discovered a LOT of really yucky (but clean though mostly unwearable clothes) and my youngest sister suggested that I bag them and donate them to the Pet Shelter. This is also a great way to pair down your family's used scatter rug and "worn-beyond-recognition-stuffed-animal" collections...but just be sure to properly launder the stuffed animals if possible before donating (those instant dry-cleaning-in-your-dryer kits work well)...as the stuffed animals make great companions/toys for new born puppies and kittens, etc. and warm fuzzy rugs provide warm, comfort and security.

Also, I take the zippers buttons off and store in my "button/sewing box," and I save the pure cotton, wool, silk and other natural fiber materials in separate bags and recently gave a 100% cotton "rag" bag to my cleaning service as an extra thank you tip for going the extra mile to clean and SANITIZE my home--it was much appreciated as the service goes through rags quickly and 100% cotton is great for so many cleaning projects...just be sure to save a few for your own use.

Also, although almost a lost art, but worth investigating if you are the crafty type, is using the especially colorful and nice fabric pieces in handmade patch-work quilting or for rug weaving. Additionally, I find large torn sheets and shower curtains are great to retire for use as paint drop cloths and you can use those space-saving vacuum tight bags to store the various types of materials in any number of sizes and can easily label them for donating, crafting, or painting.

Just some thoughts,
Gina

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Donate them to homeless people wandering on the streets. Of course, when you have four or more bags of clothes to donate, it's better to donate them to a charity such as The Salvation Army or the American Red Cross or such organization that reaches out to millions of poor and homeless people who need all the help they can get.

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