Your donated clothes likely end up in a landfill overseas – NBC Chicago

When clearing out your closet and packing clothes in bags to donate, you assume they’re going to help someone in the community. Instead, the clothes will most likely end up abroad in a landfill.

Every year, roughly 100 billion garments are produced globally, with more than *half* of those items are discarded within a year, according to a 2016 study by McKinsey Sustainability.

USAgain, known for their recognizable green and white clothing donation boxes located in and around the Chicagoland area is one of the for-profit companies exporting the clothes.

“You can say we are basically transferring resources from a part of the world where there is a surplus to parts of the world where there is a need,” Mattias Wallander, CEO of USAgain said. “And the way we do that is by collecting clothes and shoes that are re-wearable.”

Wallander states most of the clothing items USAgain gets a new life, and less than 5% goes to waste. 

Dr. Katia Dayan Vladimirova, Senior Research Associate at the University of Geneva, Switzerland and Founder and Coordinator at the International Research Network on Sustainable Fashion Consumption, countered Wallander’s claim when asked about if those exported clothing is actually given a second life.

“I would, I would say that there is a lot of misinformation and the companies most benefiting from this information are those who are also most benefited from the status quo,” Vladimirova said. “People [overseas] have to buy these bags, closed bags, bales of clothing, and they don’t know what they’re buying.  Last time I heard it was $500 so many have to take a loan. They open these bales and they find increasing volumes of unusable textiles.  Often synthetic textiles that do not biodegrade.”

Wallander says all garmets his company exports go through a quality control process

“It starts from maintaining our locations so that they are always looking nice to the public. And, and then training all our team members to take very good care of the product,” said Wallander.

And once they reach their destination, Wallander says, they have a positive economic impact.

“One of the key benefits social benefits of secondhand is that it creates jobs for a lot of people.

10% of the labor force in Central America is working in second hand. So that’s huge. And we’re very happy to be a small part of that,” said Wallander.

According to NBC 5 Responds’ research, used clothing exports from Chicago have nearly doubled in the last decade.

Now more than ever, we need to be conscious of how we shop. Jocelyn Brown, owner of Arkival Storehouse, vintage store owner, spoke about the over consumption of clothes.

“We over consume everything and so many ways and stuff that we don’t even realize,” Brown said.” I mean, even me [when] focusing on vintage clothes and trying to make my brand as sustainable as possible.” 

Brown studied Fashion Merchandising at Columbia College Chicago, where she learned about starting her business and curating fashion pieces.

“It’s still hard to not over consume, because it’s just something that we’re conditioned to do,” Brown said. 

Brown explains how fashion trends actually end up getting recycled so the newly made items from fast fashion brands are not worth purchasing.

“Nothing is new, everything recycles,” Brown said. “So all of these newer trends that you find you’re gonna find the original of that trend [at the thrift store] and the quality is so much better than it would be anywhere else.” 

In Sweden, a group of investigative reporters tracked donated clothes through the popular fashion brand H & M, where they claim they donate clothes in exchange for 10% of your next purchase. 

Their investigation found their tracked items ending up in Kenya, and when they went searching for the pieces, they couldn’t locate them because they were lost in landfills.

“Buying less is the most efficient way. If we buy less we have less to give away,” Vladimirova said.

Vladimirova said we need to stop treating donations as a way of disposing of our garments guilt free, because our donated clothes will most likely end up overseas.

“It’s these exports that are currently polluting rivers, waterways polluting the sea polluting soil being landfill,” Vladimirova said. “Even in the most advanced economies in the States, we don’t have scalable recycling technologies or waste management for textiles other than just burning them.”


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