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Dana Evann Sorge

Sustainable Donating

Image credit: Bobvilla


We are all closet purging. It’s become the thing to do while under lockdown, and for good reason: We have way too much stuff, and cleaning it out has been touted as some form of (much-needed) self-care. A clean closet equals a clear mind, right? Well, maybe. But it also equals a very dirty planet. Before you fill up the trunk and drop those bags in the bins, there are a bunch of things you need to know before you go. 


Donating has often been regarded as the responsible thing to do with our preloved purged stuff. We imagine our career clothes from that great first job, or our kids’ kindergarten clothes finding a new home with a family in need. But this donation process is not as virtuous as you might think, and the perils may outweigh the pros. No One Wants Your Used Clothes Anymore (; we’re here to provide you with the proper guidelines for responsible donating. 


Pepe in Haiti

Image: Team Habitat


The Issue

With the rise in fast fashion, clothing waste has skyrocketed throughout the world. “Between 2000 and 2015, global clothing production doubled, while the average number of times that a garment was worn before disposal declined by 36 percent.” (Minter, 2018).

“By volume, clothing is the fastest-growing category of waste to US landfills,” (Cline).

What makes this matter worse is that many believe this can be avoided by simply tossing unwanted items in a donation bin. What many consumers are unaware of is that charities only sell an average of 20-25% of what is donated (Cline). Why? And where does the rest go? For starters, chains like Goodwill are expensive to shop at for a family in need, and are often more costly than budget brands. The unsold items – those not in premium quality – get tossed in the landfills of developing countries, only to become their trash problem, not ours. What isn’t tossed is sold in the secondhand markets, perpetuating a cycle of poverty, or is broken down and sold into fibers used for mattress fill, car seats, and other bulky items.


The Dirt

For decades, wealthier countries like the US have been “donating” apparel to poorer nations in South America and Africa simply to see it disappear. When this occurs, their economies suffer. With an abundance of excess clothes, there is no incentive to create jobs in apparel manufacturing or selling (Cline). Aside from that, our forgotten clothing has not gone to use typically inhabits their land as trash.


A Bit of Background

Before donating your belongings to the nearest bin or chain, do you research. Well, big known organizations tend to receive the highest number in donations. Therefore, the amount that ends up going to waste or shipped overseas is much greater. At that point, the apparel that doesn’t go to waste often gets cut into rags to be used for packing and insulation. In previous decades, clothing shipped overseas would be recycled into disaster relief blankets in Panipat, India by hand. In the early 2000’s, China took the lead in disaster relief blankets with the use of machinery leaving the Panipat Mills out of business. However, that did not stop big name organizations from dumping “donated” clothing in India. At that point, there was no use for the textiles (Minter, 2018). To ensure a responsible donation, look into smaller or local organizations that serve a specific community or category. These charities take in less apparel and therefore generate less waste.


Donation Spots to Think Twice About

◦ Well-Known Organizations: If a charity or organization is well-known, they are usually seen as reliable for responsible donating. However, as mentioned before they generate the most clothing waste. Examples would be places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. Across the US, about 23.8 billion pounds of clothing are thrown away per year. That is 73 pounds per person (Cline 24). 

◦ Since the well-known organizations typically have a clear mission, it is worth making a monetary donation to them.

◦ Clothing Donation Bins: Conveniently located in parking lots of popular shopping destinations, and some may even be labeled by a specific organization. According to Cline, some of these bins, primarily the ones with unknown organizations are actually for-profit. The collectors simply take the textiles and sell them keeping the profits. On the other hand, well-known organizations such as Goodwill sell the apparel and put the revenue towards their charitable mission. However, when it comes to the distribution of apparel, it’s the same ordeal. Some clothes stay in the US or North America while other items go overseas. Some pieces get reloved, while the majority go to waste.

◦ In-Store Garment Collections: some fast-fashion behemoths have donation bins within where they accept clothing of any brand. Some of these stores include H&M, & Other Stories, Forever 21, Reformation, Levi’s, The North Face, and Columbia (Cline). But the textile waste they create is far greater than the few garments in these bins that they salvage. 


Where to Donate Responsibly
When donating apparel, it is most important to ensure two things: The organizations must be legitimate, and you should know where the clothes will end up and if they will be reworn. The best way to guarantee both of these factors is to find organizations and charities that focus on a specific category. When this is the case, there will be a smaller archive of excess clothing which facilitates distribute. Some of of these organizations include:

Operation Prom: This national organization takes in preloved prom gowns and tuxedos. They then provide low income students with a dress or tux of their choice. 

Dress for Success: Another non-profit organization which takes women’s business apparel to provide low-income women with professional attire to help them gain and maintain jobs. 

Clothes to Kids: This national non-profit organization provides underprivileged local children with clothing appropriate for school. For more efficient distribution, branches are divided by state. 

◦ Local Drives: Your child’s school, local church, synagogue, or places of worship probably have opportunities for donation. Around the holiday season, many organizations run drives to solve a specific need. Some may be for coats, others for hats and gloves. When charities are local and specific, proper distribution is very likely. Churches often bring donations directly to homeless shelters, or women’s shelters. Skipping the “donation center” step is key. 

◦ Some organizations have their own small charity shops filled with donated apparel. Check out what their needs are.

◦ Direct Donations: for a guaranteed responsible donation and an eye opening experience, bring your donations directly to a women’s or homeless shelter, or a social working center for children in foster care. For items such as blankets, towels, and old sheets, please bring them to your local animal shelter.

◦ For CT-based organizations to donate responsibly to, here is a list.

A Better Alternative
In conclusion, if one wants to practice sustainability, they should curate their wardrobe with pieces that are well taken care of and meant to last. There will be less of a desire to purge. When the timing comes to let go of your apparel, pass it on in a responsible manner whether it would be through hand-me downs, resale like Shop Tomorrows, or ethical donating methods. This way the clothing will be guaranteed a new life. The best way to responsibly donate is to give to local organizations that directly provide less fortunate individuals with needed apparel. It takes time and effort, but as the famous saying goes, “nothing worth doing is ever easy.” But really? It’s not that hard, and the payoff is enormous.

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