After writing sometime back about how some UK high street stores are now offering and encouraging recycling schemes I wanted to investigate this further. Where do all these clothes go that we donate through such schemes and even through our humble charity shop? And is this really as sustainable as we think?
Every year over a million tonnes of textiles are thrown away in the UK alone. At least half of that is recyclable but we only currently recycle about 25%. When we do thoughtfully donate our unwanted garments we do it with the best intentions, hoping they will go to someone who will enjoy it as we did and raise money for the multitude of charities we now pass them on to. However after a little research it seems that this is not quite how it works.
Apparently second-hand clothing merchants buy the majority of donated clothing which is then sorted and bundled and then sold on outside of the country. A whopping third of all donated clothes globally goes to sub-Saharan Africa where 300 bales can be sold for £25,000. These cheap and often low quality garments flood these poor communities eroding many local textile and garment industries and eradicating beautiful craftsmanship and handiwork skills at the same time.
Some of the textiles that are unusable as clothing gets passed onto other textile processors who turn them into wiping cloths or other things such as insulation, toy stuffing and carpet padding.
Of course it is far better to donate or recycle old clothing than to send it to landfill but does the idea that we are doing some good by doing this makes us feel that is ok to just buy more? The second-hand clothing sector helps this feel sustainable when actually the rate of consumption is anything but. If we really want to pass these on to be reused maybe we could to try other ideas such as clothes swapping or maintaining our clothing?
Many items are discarded because they need repairing or are stained which could all be dealt with by us if we were willing. Sewing is a useful skill to learn and one all our grandmothers would have done. Stains can be dealt with by dying a different colour. Buttons can be quickly re-attached and holes darned or patched. Some could even but used for the kid’s dressing up box!
But the biggest and most important message from this, I believe, is to buy less and buy better quality. That way we won’t want to throw or give garments away. We will cherish them and they will last longer than the latest trend or fad from the glossy magazines.
#SustainableFashion #SecondHandClothes #BuyLess