What Happens to Donated Clothes?

Posted on 15 June 2020
By Dana Andersen
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With awareness of how fast fashion works, and the negative impact it has, many people are trying to find alternatives, especially in how their clothing is disposed of. With charity shops asking for donations, stores like H&M offering to ‘recycle’ your clothes for you, places like Cash For Clothes offering small amounts of money for your unwanted garments, and recycling bins in many stores car parks, theres no shortage of places to offload your unwanted items, but what happens to them from there?

When you donate clothes to a charity shop, those that are good quality, and able to be sold, will go out onto the shop floor, ready to be bought and worn again, but those that are poorer quality, or otherwise thought to not be sellable, are sold to ‘textile recycling’ companies.

This then put those items into the same system as those sold to clothing recycling stores, or put into the recycling bins at H&M.

Some of the clothing will be broke down and properly recycled, be that into a new clothing item, insulation, or carpet padding. This is only the process for around 35 percent of the items collected though, the remaining 65 percent faces a much less green fate.

The majority of remaining items are re sold, ending up in second hand clothing markets, often in Africa and South America. They are bought by used clothing importers, who intend to sell the items on themselves. They buy huge bulk lots of our unwanted clothing, and have no idea what type of items they’re getting until they have them.

This results in them often receiving poor quality clothing, largely clothing deemed unsellable in places like the UK, USA, and Canada. When the clothes are low quality, they become difficult to sell, which has resulted in dumping sites and bonfires, full of fast fashion clothing donated to be recycled or reused.

We’re always going to have clothes to get rid of though, so whats the best way to go about it, if recycling isn’t what we thought it would be?

Simply put, stay away from fast fashion. Look after your clothes so they last longer, repair them if they become damaged, recycle yourself by passing items onto people you know will wear them, and when buying new clothes, look into get ones made sustainable, from good quality fabrics, that will last a long time.