Stop Sending Your Clothes to Africa

So you’re loosing weight, or your child grows (again!), or you just hate the clothes in your closet. What now? 

Likely, you pack up all the unwanted items into a bag and head to Goodwill, or another thrift store. When we donate our clothes, we are buying into a fantasy that we are doing something good. Unfortunately, many times, we aren’t. Only 25-40% of those items ever get re-sold here in our country. The remaining 60-75% end up in third world countries or are left to rot in landfills. Neither of these are good options. Let me explain… 

It’s important to remember that each American disposes of 70 – 80 pounds of clothes on a yearly basis. So we’re not just talking about your 1 bag – we’re talking about a LOT of clothes!!

Clothes in Landfills

Unless your clothes are 100% cotton or 100% another natural material – they won’t decompose. (Only 40% of women’s clothing are made from 100% cotton, as a product of fast fashion, mostly cheaper, synthetic materials are used in production.) The rest of the items will sit and sit and sit In a landfill, releasing methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. Synthetic fabrics like polyester and lycra can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, and other items can take between 5months to 40 years. 

from fashion revolution

Clothes Shipped Overseas

pulled from The Global Citizen

“It’s estimated that the global second-hand clothing industry is worth about $3.7 billion, according to the Guardian. And while it offers people in developed countries an alternative to throwing clothes out and sending them to landfills, experts and politicians have said the used clothing business impedes developing countries’ efforts to build up and sustain local textile and clothing industries. As a whole, the continent of Africa imports about $1.2 billion worth of worn clothing and shoes a year, according to the Overseas Development Institute, a think tank. 

The US is the largest exporter of used clothing and worn goods in the world, according to UN data. It not only sends massive quantities of clothing to African nations, but also exports millions of dollars worth of second-hand clothing to Chile, Guatemala, and Mexico

And while second-hand shirts “may be quite cheap for someone to buy…it would be better if that person could buy a locally manufactured t-shirt, so the money stays within the economy and that helps generate jobs,” Andrew Brooks, the author of “Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and Second-hand Clothes,” told CNN.

Over the last few decades, employment in the textile and clothing industries in several African countries has fallen — 85% of Kenya’s textile plants have closed since the 90s, Reuters reported — as the second-hand merchandise industry has burgeoned, according to CNN.

In the last year, several East African countries — including Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania — have aimed to reduce used clothing and footwear imports, and announced plans to ban them all together by 2019, the New York Times reported. These countries hope these new measures will give domestic clothing and textile industries a chance to develop and wean their reliance on imported used goods.”

pulled from DW

“Once these discarded clothes hit East African shores, they sell for extremely low prices, which make locally made clothes look too expensive by comparison. The average cost of an imported secondhand garment is between 5 and 10 percent of a new garment made in Kenya, for example. As result, local textiles factories and self-employed tailors can’t compete, so they either close down or don’t do as well as they could.

The leather and textile industries are crucial for employment creation, poverty reduction, and advancement in technological capability in the region.”

What to Do Instead

  1. Stop buying crap. Seriously this is the best way to stop the surplus of fast fashion, poor quality materials, and excess garments sitting all over the globe. 
  2. Buy Better Materials. Buy natural materials at a higher quality. It will probably cost more money, but it will definitely last you longer and decompose much faster. 

3. Up-cycle. Turn those jeans into shorts. Your shirt into a new headband, or alter that dress to your new style. If you don’t have the means or the skill – there are plenty of DIY tips on Pinterest. 

4. Buy Brands that will take their clothes back! Lots of brands are hopping on the sustainability bandwagon & taking their name-brand items back to turn them into future products. H&M, Eileen Fischer, The North Face, Levis, For Days, Patagonia, & Madewell are some that are outlined in this helpful article

5. Donate Better.

  • Dress For Success: A non-profit that focuses on the empowerment of women looking to go back into the workforce—focusing on suiting and styling them with appropriate interview attire.
  • A local women’s or homeless shelter.
  • Be on the look out for disaster relief organizations who are looking for clothing or home items, (ie. American Red Cross after a hurricane etc). Wait for these to be requested – otherwise, we start back at the top.
  • Post to Facebook or Freecycle and ask if anyone locally needs the clothes. Many times there are families you can give directly and even speak to! 
  • Sell them! Thrifting online has become a whole new market. Poshmark, ThredUp are a couple of options that I have both sold and purchased clothing. 
  • Hold a clothing swap party! Invite a bunch of friends, pour some wine, and exchange new outfits! You could even include children’s clothes if the ages line up. 

There you have it folks! Sometimes, even when we think we’re doing a good thing – we have a profound impact on the environment, the economy and ultimately people’s lives. So let’s just try to be a bit more conscious moving forward of both our consumption and our waste. 

What’s your favorite way to recycle, up-cycle or donate your clothes?



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