Avalanche of Fabric

(Original Picture Credit: http://www.holytaco.com/confessions-ross-dress-less-employee/ )

You have those old clothes that are still in good shape, but they’re out of style and you’re tired of them. No room in the closet. What do you do?

I know! Take them to the charity down the street. Put them in that big box by the post office. At least someone will get some use out of them.

Dream on. Charities are inundated with clothing. What do you think happens to it?


My wife keeps telling me to give my old shirts to the Sally Anne or Value Village, but it’s a receiver’s market. These charities get so much clothing that they can pick and choose. A small number of lucky items may actually get saved, cleaned and sold in the thrift store. A larger amount will be cut up and reused as rags. But if a shirt looks too old for me to want to wear it, it’s going to end up in the garbage somewhere, sometime.


A few more items will be shredded and recycled into other clothing. Like about 1% of the total. The problem with recycling of cloth is twofold. First, there are so many blends, it is impossible to separate the different materials. Second, the cloth has to be chewed up, thus breaking the natural fibres. So the cloth that results is downgraded.

The Result?

85% of all used clothing ends up in the landfill. Only a small amount gets dealt with in an ecofriendly way. Most of that will be baled up and shipped overseas: $160 million worth a year. Kenya is our biggest importer. There, once again, some of it will be sorted out for sale in the market. But a huge amount will be piled up and burnt.

Wait a minute. What about the “recycle your old clothes” bin in the store? Well, that’s the last place you should put clothes. What these stores are doing actually has a name. They are participating in “greenwashing:” pretending to do something ecologically sound, which allows them to keep doing the activity that is causing the problem in the first place. Sort of like a mining company planting a park around a caustic tailings pond, or a drug dealer contributing to social housing.

The Answer?

The solution to this problem, like that to many other problems of our society like drugs and the sex trade, is to deal with the original source of the problem. There is no point in trying to solve the problem at the outflow. The problem is back where the abuse starts. You can’t solve the sex trade until you stop the sexual abuse that is sending sex workers onto the street. You can’t solve the drug problem until you deal with the poverty and abuse that makes people want to use drugs to escape.

And you can’t deal with the flood of used clothing until you stop people from wasting their money buying so many clothes. 70 new articles a year, on average. The fashion industry has created this problem through intensive marketing, and North America has fallen for it, hook, hemline, and slinky.


What To Do About Clothing?

  1. Wear it. Pay a little extra for good quality goods that will last, and then wear them longer.
  2. Trade it. If it’s still good and you’re tired of it, swap with your friends.
  3. I know this is out of date, but there are still a few people who know how to use a sewing machine. Recut and restyle. Exercise your individuality and save money.
  4. If you are going to donate it, check out the reputation of the receivers, just like you would any donation. See where the clothing really goes. And remember, sending clothing to Kenya is rather like sending coal to Newcastle or refrigerators to the Inuit. It’s about the climate, you know.
  5. So the solution is simple, and it’s in your power; DON’T BUY SO MANY D**NED CLOTHES. Just like the drug trade, the money you spend is going into the hands of the people who created the problem. You can make your contribution to the ecosystem of the planet and save money, too.  🙂






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