As I drove to the local Salvos with a boot full of clothes scrapped from the back of my wardrobe, I used to feel a sense of accomplishment for my good deed. As I shifted gears and turned each corner, I fantasised about all the people my clothes would benefit. I imagined how thrilled the disadvantaged teenager would be to purchase my old formal dress, or how special the single mother of four would feel to be wearing my expensive open-toed shoes. There was an overwhelming sense of satisfaction that washed over me as I heaved the bulging garbage bags over the metal lip of the donation bin.
However, as I grew older and became more aware of the op-shop process, my entire thought process changed. Unfortunately, I don’t experience the same pleasure of donating my unwanted goods anymore. I hate to break it to you, but your generous donation is unlikely to be reaching the hands of those who are doing it tough. As a matter of fact, from the thousands of clothes donated per day, approximately ten percent are placed onto the racks we see inside the stores. I would also like to point out that only a small amount (if any) are actually given to homeless shelters, or charitable services. In light of this, you might be wondering to yourself, ‘where do my clothes end up?’
Stores or landfill
While there are some donations of clothing that come through to our second hand stores and beg for a second life, staff members (who are usually volunteers) simply cannot handle the outrageous quantity that is donated each and every day. Among the items they receive, most of them are produced using cheap materials, and therefore, low in quality. The issue with this is how there isn’t much appeal for shoppers to buy clothing in such poor condition, especially when you can purchase the exact item for a bit of extra money at the department store it was originally found at.
On top of this, a lot of consumers have a ‘wear once and donate’ mindset, as giving away your clothes this often has been misconstrued to be an act of generosity. These same people are also using it as an excuse to over consume and, as a result, causing a huge environmental issue. Australian Bureau of Statistics reports 501,000 tons of leather and textiles were sent to landfill in 2009-10. As you’re reading this, you might be thinking to yourself that this number wouldn’t apply to you. But, unless your donated items make the ten percent, it’s likely you’re contributing to this statistic.
More often than not, these donation stores sell their unwanted stock to textile recycling businesses, who will use what they can to repurpose the material into industrial rags and ceiling insulation. These textile recycling companies are perhaps one of the only causes that are genuinely using the material of cheap unwanted clothing and putting it to good use. But unfortunately, with the amount they receive, it would be impossible to repurpose every bit of it. So, where do the rest end up?
Well, they are bundled up and sent in excess to less economically stable countries. Initially, this may feel as though it were a positive action to take. But, in many cases, these textiles still manage to end up in landfill, except in another part of the world. It seems as though these countries have become less of a donation centre, and more of a dumping ground for the over-consumption problem in the West. An additional side effect to this is the impact it has for their economy. Locals are less enthused to buy from home-grown businesses if they’re able to purchase these donated clothes at an unbeatable price. This drives the local businesses out and can result in the loss of jobs.
With all of this in mind, we must ask ourselves, ‘what more can be done?’ If we don’t act, the cycle will only continue to repeat itself. One of the ways we can reduce the problem is to give our preloved goods to friends or family, who you know will truly give the item a second life. You should also consider selling your items through local classifieds, such as Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree. Lastly, be mindful of your original purchases and ask yourself if it would be something you would keep for a long period of time.
Words by Taylah Pomery
Photography by Tanner Muller