What Happens to Your Used Clothing?
Cared for from the Start
After you "do the drop," your bag of donated clothes will stay dry and protected in our locked, waterproof bins. We monitor how much volume a bin receives and determine a pick-up schedule accordingly. Once in the truck, your clothes will make their way to one of our warehouses, eventually arriving at the end of the day along with 5,000 additional pounds of clothing in the truck. Our bins are posted with instructions that indicate we only accept clothes and shoes. The best way to donate non-clothing items is via our Give Back Box program.
Processing the Clothes
We sort clothing received at some of our facilities for the purpose of selling them in our Thrift Center. We also occasionally sort clothing for a local cause, like a winter coat clothing drive to benefit the homeless. However, most of the clothing we receive is loaded directly into our baling machine without sorting. The baling machine wraps the clothes in a protective cloth or plastic wrapper and straps them tightly together into a large package that weighs approximately 1,000 pounds. These bales make it easier to handle and ship the clothes from the warehouse to the final destination. The bales may remain in the warehouse for a few days, but generally no longer as the demand for the clothing is very high.
Shipping Them Off
Every day we load the bales into trailers for domestic buyers or in shipping containers for overseas customers. These loads may be sold to a sorting house or "grader"—a business that will go through the individual items and sort them according to type and quality. A portion of that good-quality clothing goes to domestic thrift stores, but the majority is sold to overseas customers. This is a result of the high demand for used clothing in developing countries and the relatively low demand for used textiles in the U.S.
Sending Clothes Overseas
The clothes that are sent overseas usually end up in developing countries, where they can be resold on a micro-level. This exchange creates jobs and provides a source of affordable clothing for those who don’t have much to spend. For example, the container your clothes get packed in may be sold to an importer in Guatemala. After some overland travel to a U.S. port, the container will be loaded onto a ship (bound perhaps to Puerto Barrios on the Gulf of Mexico).
Once unloaded from the ship, the importer will unpack the container and sell individual bales that had been packed at Planet Aid. Sellers who operate used clothing stalls in a local outdoor market may buy a few bales each week. They will sort the items themselves and set the price for each. Some better-off customers will buy the higher priced items and those with fewer means buy relatively cheap items (often sold for pennies). In the end, they will sell or give away everything.
Why Not Just Give Away the Clothes?
- Donating clothes to developing countries would actually be detrimental to the local economies. Simply giving things away only patches the larger problem of poverty. If clothing is free then the livelihoods of local retailers, tailors, and others in the textile industry are jeopardized. The resale market creates new jobs while offering a cheap source of desirable clothing. This is why, even when offered, most countries will not accept free items. Some criticize used clothing for undermining textile manufacturing in African countries. The truth is that the introduction of trade-liberalization and the opening of economies in the 1980s allowed both used clothing and cheap new imports, especially from Asian countries, to enter markets across the continent. It is well documented that new cheap Chinese textiles have had a huge effect on the African continent.
- It is a common misconception that all clothing donations are put back into local U.S. communities. Any major charity that collects textiles will end up selling the vast majority of the clothing it receives, usually using the proceeds to help fund charitable initiatives. Planet Aid uses the money earned from the sale of used clothing to help fund sustainable development projects that help the poorest of the poor.
- There is simply not enough demand in the U.S. for all our castoffs. The average American throws away about 70 pounds of clothing a year—that’s about 191 T-shirts!