When Charity shops are oversubscribed with our second-hand clothing, what are the alternative ways to get rid of our old clothes?
With the increase in frequent wardrobe cleansing and charity shops receiving more donations than they can handle, are they still the best alternative to landfills? With the rise in vintage hauls and 30% of people believing that charity shops are more important to society since the pandemic (British Heart Foundation), we question what happens once our clothes are handed over. Is the mainstream obsession with charity shopping becoming a problem? In the UK alone, it is estimated that over 300,000 tonnes of clothing are thrown away every year. Peter Maddox, the director of Wrap, said the charity sector was preparing for an “unprecedented volume” of donations. More items mixed with reduced volunteers mean the charity sector is dealing with more waste than they can handle. With more pressure on the consumer to reduce our negative environmental impact, we must rethink how we dispose of our items.
Charity shops are inundated with low-quality pieces that they cannot resell. As a result, only 10-30% of clothes donated end up being sold in shops while the rest is given to textile merchandisers and shipped overseas or, to our detriment, end up in the landfill.
The journey a pre-loved garment takes may depend on the size of the charity shop. A larger store is more likely to pile up its mountain of inventory, whereas a smaller shop may pick out items to curate its shop floor. The pieces that do not qualify are then bundled up and divided into three main categories: textile merchandisers to be sold overseas, recycling centres, or our nightmare, landfills. It’s best to start with prevention. Reducing the number of new clothes purchased minimises the number of unwanted clothes we will eventually need to dispose of by lengthening the garment’s lifecycle. By investing in quality pieces, the garments become beneficial to others even when no longer wanted by ourselves. Then, when we eventually donate to charity, we should be confident that the shop can benefit from selling high-quality clothes instead of the burden of being stuck with poor quality pieces.
Upcycling is the practice of turning unwanted clothing into new fashionable garments – creating new from old. Upcycling clothes can bring many benefits, such as reducing waste by reusing unwanted garments for another purpose. Recently, designers and artists have purchased clothing from charity shops for re-purposing and upcycling. Designers such as Helen Kirkum blend together old trainers to create a new pair and demonstrate how to turn waste into something valuable and wearable. Some influencers purchase from charity shops and ‘flip’ their pieces to make an item trendier, inspiring their audiences on platforms like Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. Others also carefully select charity shop items to resell online through websites like Depop and eBay.
Upcycling is a great alternative to giving them away. A new lease of life means new outfits can be created for years to come. Designers like Tega Akinola can help inspire your creative vision and spur you to create fashionable, trendy, upcycled garments while reducing your footprint on the planet. If you don’t want to do it yourself, find local designers nearby looking for pieces to spruce up; alternatively, paying a fee to companies like Atelier Pina (Amsterdam) to upcycle your desired pieces is a good choice. Although upcycling may take a bit of time and practice, it ultimately allows you to have a unique and trendy piece of clothing that leaves you feeling proud.
Being in control of where your clothes go is always a good thing. Selling them yourself ensures that you know where your products end up. There is a multitude of ways this can be done, both online and in person. With apps like Vinted and Depop, it is easier to pair garments with a new loving home. Selling online can be a slow process, but the democratisation of photography and picking a large enough selection of clothes has led to a new generation of successful resellers. An active, average seller earns around £150 on Vinted a month. Alternatively, there’s always the good old-fashioned car boot sale that can help you make the most of getting rid of unwanted clothes and can allow you to sell in bulk with minimal effort whilst meeting new people.
Renting clothing can also reduce the amount of waste and clothing sent to charity shops. With companies like By Rotation and On Loan, you can have stylish clothing without excessive waste. By Rotation, a peer-to-peer renting platform ensures the most is made from garments that may otherwise sit in the back of our closet. Alternatively, On Loan allows you to try out new pieces and accessories for a set time and price, which means you produce less waste while keeping up with trends and looking as stylish and fashionable.
What about unwearable clothes? There is a massive push for the UK textile recycling industry to catch up with recycling incentives offered for non-fashion items such as glass, plastic or cardboard. Mixed fibres are still almost impossible to recycle, however local recycling centers and clothing banks are the next best option. According to London Recycles fabric recycling involves the sorting, shredding and re-spinning of fabrics to new fibres or alternatively, the materials may be used as fillings for pillows, insulation and furniture. Recycling facilities will often separate clothing into rewear, reuse and recycle.
Charity shops like TRAID have 1,500 clothing donation banks around the country and even have free home collections helping to reduce waste, upcycle and resell these pieces instead of sending them to landfills. Brands such as H&M incentivises clothing donations in exchange for vouchers to spend in their stores. Despite being a fast-fashion brand and being regularly scrutinised by conscious customers, H&M is investing in being circular. They recently launched their 100% recycled denim collection and Circulator, a tool to allow the group to reach their goal of having 100% of their products designed for circularity. RefRecycling by Reformation, more praised for their sustainable efforts, has introduced a take-back scheme whereby shoppers can donate their clothes from home. Investing in single fibre pieces gives your garment a higher chance of being recycled and respun into new fibres, look out for pure materials such as 100% cotton or wool instead of mixed fibre clothing.
Thinking about the afterlife of your garments is part of being a conscious buyer. So next time, before deciding to take a bag of your unwanted garments to the charity shop, question every piece you are donating and ask yourself, have I really done enough to prevent it from going to the graveyard of clothes?