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Sustainability Series: What Really Happens to the Clothes you Donate?

Sustainability Series: What Really Happens to the Clothes you Donate?

Routinely at the start of every fall season I go through my wardrobe and decide what is not going to make it into the next year. Me, being the great citizen that I think I am.  I donate my clothes either to the Goodwill or use clothes recycling programs like the one H&M sponsors. Naturally, every time I participate in such actions I feel as though I’ve done a great thing to give back to the less fortunate or to help reduce clothing waste.


bails of clothes

If you aren’t aware the fashion manufacturing industry is the 2nd most polluting industry in the world. The process of spinning natural fibers into yarns or using petrochemicals to make synthetics fibers and/or textiles requires a lot of water, carbon gases and chemicals. Many of these pollutants end up back into major water sources and back into the air. Additionally, many of the clothes that we donate to Goodwill or other organizations do not end up in resale stores nor are given for free to people in developing countries.


In most cases, bales of recycled and donated clothes are sent to off-shore sorting facilities. In fact, Haiti is one country that receives a lot of recycled clothing from the US and not for the purpose of being sold. Less than 10% of clothes donated are actually in good enough condition to be resold. Another common myth is that recycling businesses are non-profit, that is not the case. Most are for-profit and making tons of money from this business.


The story of what happens to donated and recycled clothing is a long one. As result I will be starting a sustainability series will subsequent posts on this topic . My hope is that by bringing to light some of the unattractive parts of the fashion industry will lead to greater innovation and legislation.


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