What really happens to donated clothing?

Posted by Shaheena Links on

As a conservationist, you know the importance of doing the right thing. You don't use single-use plastic, you compost, you recycle, you buy recycled/recyclable and eco-friendly products. You also donate clothing you no longer wear.

Once we donate something we don't give it much thought because we believe it ends up exactly where it is needed most. But it's important to understand the impacts of clothing donations on the environment. While donating clothing can help reduce waste and support charitable causes, the reality of what happens to donated clothing can be more complex.

Sometimes the amount of clothing that is donated can contribute to the overconsumption of resources. We know that billions of garments are made annually. By reducing our consumption and choosing high-quality and durable clothing, we can help reduce the need for excess clothing donations in the first place.

Transporting and processing donated clothing can also have negative environmental impacts. In certain Western countries, donated clothing is shipped overseas which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of pollution. Sometimes before donated clothing is distributed it needs to be processed and this can require energy and resources, such as water and electricity. This donation of excess clothing tends to end up going to developing countries and can have negative impacts on their local economies. An excess of cheap clothing and fast fashion items can undermine local textile industries and lead to unemployment and poverty. Creating a vicious cycle of dependence on foreign aid and can have long-term consequences for the social and economic development of these countries.

So what can we do? It can sometimes feel overwhelming all the smart choices we as consumers have to make. In the simplest terms, we need to be mindful of what we donate and where we donate it. Before donating, we can check if the garments are in good condition and that they can in fact be reused or resold locally. Research which local organisations accept clothing donations and prioritise those that have sustainable and ethical practices.

We need to make conscious and informed choices about our clothing donations and support a more sustainable and equitable fashion industry while also reducing waste and protecting the environment.