We recently watched a new release from CBC’s Marketplace called Clothing Waste: Fashion’s Dirty Little Secret. Charlsie Agro led us through an awakening story about the journey of donated clothing.
According to Elizabeth Cline, an advocate for sustainable and ethical fashion, merely 1% of donated clothing truly gets recycled. Based on the Marketplace exposé, the clothing that we donate does not genuinely fulfill the aspirations we had for the used garments. Instead, it has the potential to be broken down and used for painters’ cloths or insulation. The rest of the clothing, however, is actually sold to intermediaries that sell the garments to other countries in the used clothing market. That’s right! Our donations become profitable for companies that take them from us, they are rarely broken down to be used in the creation of new clothing, and not all of the clothing gets to people who are in need.
Agro brings to light that the technology to truly recycle clothing has yet to be developed. This leaves us in awe when we look at companies like H&M that lead initiatives claiming to break down donated clothing for the purpose of crafting new garments.
So what do we do with our old clothing?
Some suggestions that came out the exposé are great starting points for those of us considering passing on our used garments.
1) Participate in clothing swaps! This can be a great way to give your clothing to a better home and to upgrade your own wardrobe!
2) Donate to a reputable charity. This is still a great way to pass on used clothing. It is important to do your research at this stage. You want to know not only what the company does with your donations, but what happens to the clothing if no one wants it.
3) Try donating clothing to your local consignment and thrift shops!
4) Don’t over-consume. The reason why we have so many things to donate is rooted in our tendency to purchase cheap, trendy items that do not last very long. This never-ending rotating closet will only create an excess of clothing to be given away, as we continue to buy more. In fact, Cline coined the term the “clothing deficit myth”, which relates to the fact that clothing donations are too often framed as something to do for those in need. However, the reality is that there is much more clothing being donated than there are people to give it to.
So, regardless of how the initial act of “donating” our clothing may make us feel, we need to educate ourselves on what goes on after the donation box. Instead of finding joy in helping to provide clothing to others who need it, with more research, we may find discomfort in knowing that there is a system in place that takes advantage of our consumer tendencies.
Information and Image Gathered From: CBC Marketplace I; CBC Marketplace II; Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion