5 Myths About Used Clothing
Clothing consumption and waste is not a problem in the United States.
If you believe the above statement, we have some surprising statistics for you. Clothing consumption has nearly doubled in the past 15 years, and at the same time people are keeping and using the clothing they buy for only half as long. This trend is resulting is a growing mountain of unwanted clothing that is being senselessly wasted.
If you were unaware of these facts, you are not alone. Most people are only beginning to understand the problem of clothing waste.
Here are a few more myths about clothing that we'd like to address.
Myth 1: Americans donate or recycle most of their used clothing
The reality is that Americans still opt to throw away most of their old clothes, because it's easiest to do so and/or they think no one would want their castoffs. On average, people get rid of about 70 pounds of textiles each year, with 85 percent of these old or unwanted duds ending up in the trash truck. That means we are collectively generating 16 million tons of clothing waste annually. That's the same weight as 400 cruise ships! Only 2 million tons from this 16 million ton quantity are donated for reuse and recycling.
Myth 2: People in the U.S. have a great need for used clothing
Yes, there are individuals in the U.S. who need clothing, but the larger truth is that the vast bulk of donated clothing is not needed or wanted here. Remember, there are millions of tons of unwanted clothing that get trashed every year. There is simply not enough domestic demand for this huge quantity of clothes.
Planet Aid donates some clothes and other items to the needy in the U.S. For example, we have provided clothing to Puerto Rican refugees, helped former inmates restart their lives, given away winter coats to the homeless during the freezing winter, and helped other local organizations clothe the poor. But there is simply too much to distribute domestically.
Consider that the U.S. homeless population is estimated around 600,000 individuals on any given night nationwide. Planet Aid alone collects 100 million pounds of textiles in one year. If we distributed our total annual collection to 600,000 homeless individuals, they would each receive 166 pounds of clothing, which equates to more than 300 T-shirts per person per year.
There are millions of people who really want these items, but they mostly live outside our borders. You can find secondhand markets all over the world displaying American castoffs. Used clothing is so deeply woven into the fabric of some cultures (no pun intended) that they even have their own special word for it. For example, in Haiti used clothing is called pepe, in Tanzania it is mitumba, in Zambia it is salaula, and in Central America it is ropa americana.
Myth 3. Charities give away all the used clothing they receive
It's surprising how this myth persists. The truth is that charities that collect used clothing mostly sell rather than give the clothing away, some domestically and the rest internationally. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, approximately only 10-20 percent of the 2 million tons of textiles donated in the United States end up on the racks of domestic thrift stores. Nearly half of what is not sold domestically (or about 1.6 million tons) is sold on the international secondhand clothing market, and the vast majority of that quantity is resold in secondhand markets in developing nations.
Myth 4. It's best to give away clothing to those in the developing world
The root of poverty stems from a lack of sufficient income, and handouts would be a band-aid remedy on an intractable problem.
When secondhand clothes are bought and sold, communities in developing countries benefit from the jobs and the inexpensive source of clothing. The international market enables clothing redistribution to sensibly work on a large scale, while also upholding the dignity and respect of those involved.
In addition, as it is sometimes alleged, the import of used clothing into developing nations is not undermining domestic clothing production for domestic use. Efforts to ban secondhand clothing imports has only served to negatively impact local traders and consumers in these countries, while benefiting foreign manufacturers who have set up shop there to export clothing to the West.
Myth 5. Used clothes are possessed by the devil
Ok, this is not actually a widespread myth per se, but it's come up in the past. Televangelist Pat Robertson stated on his program the 700 Club that used clothing could be possessed. “Not every sweater at Goodwill is possessed by demons, but it’s a good idea to pray over secondhand clothes just in case,” said Mr. Robertson. He elaborated by saying that clothing could be possessed just like any other inanimate object.
We can't speak authoritatively on matters of possession. However, we can say with certainly that donating rather than disposing of your clothing prevents another kind of evil: the generation of greenhouse gases that contributes to climate change.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the 2 million tons of textile waste Americans recycle annually is equivalent to taking 1.2 million cars off the road! So not only is your bag of old clothes benefiting the less-fortunate, it's also helping to protect the environment. Imagine how much more good can be done if more clothing was saved from disposal.
Planet Aid collects and sells used clothing and shoes in the United States. All proceeds from the sale of clothing goes toward sustainable development projects in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Click here to find a yellow donation bin to drop off a bag of unwanted clothes.See All Blog Posts