Trash Bags Filled With Clothes For Donation - Where Do They Really End Up?

Posted by Vivian McNeil on

It was a truly frigidly cold New York day outside this week, so I decided to do something practical and accomplishing, reorganizing my clothing closet. I prepared two heavy duty color coordinated trash bags in my room to make sure I do not make mistakes as to which bag, I want to toss the various items into. One color was for garbage, another was for the thrift shop. Yes, some items did need to be thrown out in a garbage bag. For example, I would be too embarrassed to give old worn-out shoes and sneakers to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. It would certainly make me look bad. Why would I give those worn-out items away to other people who could not afford to buy new clothes? Surely, the Salvation Army gets enough of that junk. So, I thought that I was helping the hard-working volunteers at the thrift shop organizations by throwing away the items I thought were unworthy of their special customers and the items in good condition could be given away to the people who need them. 

Before trashing the above mentioned “garbage items”, I decided to do some research on what these organizations do with items that their clients don’t end up choosing. Most secondhand shops generally accept all types of merchandise no matter what their condition. I was in for quite a surprise which I would like to share with you. 

Old Clothing 

Clothes in a trash bag go through a cycle of distribution of items made from assorted fabrics. When they are brought to the secondhand shop, they will stay there for several weeks. If they are not picked up by needy people, they are sent to various other venues to be dealt with according to their desirability. There generally are four ways that the old clothing gets utilized. They are incinerated (like the clothing in my garbage bag), sold in secondhand shops, recycled, or put into landfills

Parting with a well-liked item and giving it to a secondhand store seems like such an act of compassion. You fervently hope that someone exactly your size will buy your favorite jeans and enjoy them as much as you did. Didn’t it take all your will power to toss those favorite jeans into the donation bag? Maybe some person in your own town will be able to enjoy them now. However, it is a bit of a fantasy to expect all your disposed clothing to end up being worn by people who cannot afford to buy such quality jeans on their own. 

According to Mike Lee of ABC News, most of the donated used clothes are usually sold and not given away. Only ten percent of the clothing donated end up being given away to the less fortunate. Textile recycling firms buy the remaining ninety percent of the clothing. In turn, most of these clothes are recycled. About twenty-five percent become cleaning cloths or rags that are sold to shops such as auto repair or car washes. The other seventy-five percent of those are processed in different manners. 

There is another profitable option for the recycling companies to exercise. These garments are sold in specific international trading businesses in developing countries. For example, the jeans that we mentioned earlier will be stuffed into plastic bales. Clothes are sorted out according to types and the jeans join other denim pants by being placed into tightly sealed plastic bales. Each bale contains about one hundred pairs of jeans and weighs in at about one hundred and twenty pounds. The jeans that you so lovingly wore may end up displayed in a foreign country for sale on “bend over” marketplaces. They are called by this name because the customers must bend over to look through the various clothing items that are displayed. Your pair of well-preserved jeans can sell retail for about seven dollars which is a bargain for a country like Ghana. US made jeans are a sought-after piece of merchandise which the citizens of these developing countries will not be able to buy new. The company that bought the bales of clothing sells it to another company which in turn sells your jeans on the retail, “bend over” market. This way of business negatively affects the manufacturing and selling of goods made in their own countries either by hand or by machines. For instance, African workers end up losing jobs because the companies they work for cannot compete with the pricing of used clothing. 

Charities such as the Salvation Army and Goodwill claim that wherever and whenever they sell the clothing, whether in their shops, to recycling or to overseas profiteers, the money still goes to charity. 

Mildew Issues of Donated Clothing 

What happens if a trash bag full of clothes donated by a well-meaning individual gets contaminated by mildew because of some dampness? These clothes are not appealing to customers unless they will be put through a dry-cleaning process which is usually too costly for the secondhand shop workers. These clothes will go directly to landfills. Even the companies who sell the clothes in bale packaging will not take these contaminating items. 

How Textiles are Recycled 

A shocking ten million tons of used clothing are sent to landfills. Seven hundred thousand tons of these types of used items are sent overseas with about two and half million get to be recycled. First, they are sorted according to material type and color. Assortment by color reduces the need to re-dye the materials for future use in new items. Zippers and buttons are cut away and magnets remove them from the growing piles. If the fabric is either wool or cotton, it is cleaned, and fibers are re-spun into thread that is ready to be woven into new products. Acrylic and polyester fabrics which are made out of plastic are turned back into plastic pellets which are melted and reprocessed back into polyester. This process sanitizes the fabric and turns it into new fabric. You can notice many clothing labels as reprocessed or labeled as other fabrics on the fabric content labels. 

What Can We Do to Help? 

For most of us, buying clothing is a rewarding experience. We are so lucky to be living in a country where new clothing can be bought for cheap prices. As we all know our fast-food society is much too disposable. Since a nice logo tee shirt can be bought for five dollars, no one will feel guilty giving it to a thrift shop after it has been worn and washed numerous times even if it is still in excellent condition. Thinking that someone else will enjoy it makes it easy to give away. We would be doing our environment a favor if we would buy better and more expensive clothing that we would not want to give away. Yes, we feel we are doing our charitable best by donating, but inevitably most of the used clothing does not end up being given away gratis. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims that close to eighty four percent of our clothing is either incinerated or piled up in landfills. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, the average American citizen will throw away anywhere near seventy to eighty pounds of textiles including clothing annually. By keeping our clothing longer and handing it down to siblings, relatives or neighbors not only are we saving our environment, but we are teaching our children the value of money and possessions. It is interesting to watch some YouTube shows of how people make beautiful new clothes out of outdated ones. I watched one interesting video in which the girl took an old grey sweater and a plaid mini skirt and remade them into a beautiful jacket. All she did was cut off half the sleeves of the sweater and sew on material from the skirt to make loose sleeves and she added some length to the bottom with the plaid fabric from the skirt. It came out so beautiful you would never be able to tell that it was not brand new. 

Even if you feel your clothes belong in the trash, think of what happens to these items once they are in the landfill. It could take as long as three hundred years for garments to decompose. Clothing connoisseurs have been exploring secondhand stores for years. People who could easily afford to buy new, proudly wear their priceless finds. Instead of justifying our clothes buying sprees by having in mind to give them to secondhand stores, it would be more prudent to keep them longer in the first place. Fashion is extremely exciting but often our wardrobes can go through just one more season. Just as charity begins at home so does clothing conservation. Next time you set out to organize your closet, make sure you know where those tossed clothing in the garbage bag is going. Ask a neighbor, a friend or relative if they could use some of your old garments. You may be surprised at how successful you can become recycling your own attire.

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