While donating clothes is definitely better than sending them to landfills, the volume of clothing donations has led to sustainability issues too. And they’re not easily solved.
10 years ago, the UK exported over £380 million worth of discarded clothing items overseas, mostly to Pakistan, Haiti and Uganda, a practice that still continues day! This process has knock-on effects on their environments and local economies, basically crashing any domestic textile manufacturing. This is an awkward truth for both local authorise for whom it is cheaper to ship this ‘waste’ than it is to pay the £86.20 a tonne to put it in landfill and for the fashion labels that can keep their abundance of waste out of site from their customers. Many fashion brands around the globe are promoting circularity, but the reality shows that this is a myth as fast fashion’s linear business model clearly shows this in the countries where many of these cheap clothes end up once their short lives are over: on huge dump sites, burnt on open fires and washed out into the sea.
As awareness of these issues arises, additional pressure is now being put on charity shops and other locations to find a way of dealing with the mountains of unwanted clothing we discard.
By reducing this amount of waste sent it landfills, charity shops saved local authorities around £28m in 2018. However, there is only so much this secondary market can take and it won’t be long before it bulks under the weight of waste we are producing. It’s worth remembering that Charity shops and secondhand clothes shops still rely on us all consuming and are at best a delay rather than a solution.
As an example of this, we recently purchased two Primark dresses for a local charity shop with the original labels still attached. Both had minor flaws but were still very much wearable. To see such new garments being sold secondhand without ever being worn is so disheartening and shows how far we have to go to achieve sustainability.
For now, however, these garments have been given a second life (or first ) as Assemble bags but this in itself is far from the ideal, they are at least in use and more practical and beautiful than when we found them.