The sad truth is, no one wants your used clothing anymore. A once-virtuous cycle is breaking down. What now?
For decades, the donation bin has offered consumers in rich countries a guilt-free way to unload their old clothing. In a virtuous and profitable cycle, a global network of traders would collect these garments, grade them, and transport them around the world to be recycled, worn again, or turned into rags and stuffing.
Now that cycle is breaking down. Fashion trends are accelerating, new clothes are becoming as cheap as used ones, and poor countries are turning their backs on the secondhand trade. Without significant changes in the way that clothes are made and marketed, this could add up to an environmental disaster in the making.
Growing up we always donated our used clothing, but now 30 years later, I couldn’t even find a company interested in taking my stash of clothes — even Goodwill turned down my donation, saying right now they are inundated with clothes, more than they could ever process.
So what is the solution? While upcycling is still an option, another solution is to buy clothes made from recycled material. Stores like “Airabela” are jumping on board. They recently began offering a collection of their popular Girl Power t-shirts made from recycled cloth.
“Our new line of Girl Power t-shirts are part of the ethical fashion movement,” says Zara, head of marketing at Airabela.com. “The t-shirts are made from recycled cotton scraps and upcycled polyester rPET, saving reusable textiles and plastic bottles from ending up in landfills.”
The used clothing trade used to be a multi-billion dollar industry but now more companies are shifting focused and turning those old clothes into yarn to make blankets. In Panipat, India, which is about 55 miles north of Delhi, they turn donated clothes, to blankets.
Much of what they produce is used to make cheap blankets for disaster-relief operations. It’s been a good business: Panipat manufacturers can make up to 100,000 blankets a day, accounting for 90 percent of the relief-blanket market.
While recycling is important for the environment, it’s not the only solution. We need to try and wear our clothes longer. There is no need to buy something, wear it once or twice and then throw it away. Every little bit helps, after all.
When shopping for new clothes, look for brands that are using recycled material.
Be the change you want to see!