Where do your donated jeans end up? When I put a pair of stylish but unfortunately too small jeans in the Goodwill donation bin, I imagine a young single mother, struggling to make ends meet one day wearing them feeling beautiful and happy about her find. But, that’s probably more of my imagination than the truth. In fact, only 10% of clothes donated are sold in the thrift shop. Most of the clothes are sold to companies that then make a profit on them.
One type of company recycles them into dish cloths that are sold for a profit. Some people find it disheartening that some stranger is making a profit off of their donation. However, some people are happy that their old clothes are being recycled and not dumped in a landfill. Goodwill says that the profit they make off of selling clothes to recyclers pays for community programs, so the donation is still doing good.
Another type of company sells the clothes in developing countries for a profit. This disrupts the local market, costing local textile makers the opportunity to sell a pair of traditional. Frazer (2008) explains the dynamic: “Used-clothing imports are found to have a negative impact on apparel production in Africa, explaining roughly 40% of the decline in production and 50% of the decline in employment over the period 1981–2000” (p. 1767).
This ABC article clearly explains the journey of the donated jeans. http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=2743456&page=1
So, what to do? First of all, I think all nonprofits should be transparent about what happens to donations. Second, it is true that charity thrift stores provide jobs and programs in the community, so I donate clothing that I know will sell, like good quality and still in style pieces. Then, I recycle the clothes with stains and holes into cleaning rags myself. As for jeans, you can turn them into insulation for Habitat Homes http://www.cottonfrombluetogreen.org/Mail-in-Program/. For those in between items, I hold on to them and personally give them to people I hear about who are in need because of a house fire or hard times.
Clothing isn’t the only problem. Computers, tvs, and cell phones are too. This is a good PBS Frontline video explaining the problem of computers being dumped in developing countries. http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/ghana804/video/video_index.html
For my old technology, I give it all to 4 the World. The technologically-gifted volunteers rebuild computers and then we take them to schools in developing countries that ask for them. We find that the older technology works better than new technology with the slower systems and there is not a traditional market that is being threatened. We NEVER dump junk computers in the developing world.
Before you buy a new device though, take the time to find out what’s in it. Some TVs and computers have more toxins that can’t be recycled. Check out Greenpeace’s report “What’s in Electronic Devices”. You can also check out EPEAT to see how green a device is. Or better yet, just upgrade your existing device. Or, turn it off and go outside for a walk instead (but after you read my blog of course!)