Why waste your old clothing? Is donating it to charity really the best option?

Why waste your old clothing? Is donating it to charity really the best option?

The rise of fast fashion in Australia means 6,000 kilograms of clothing is dumped in landfill every 10 minutes.

Although many items are donated to charity, a lot of it can’t be resold and ends up in landfill due to the low quality or oversupply of items that don’t sell.

The ABC’s War On Waste documentary visualised this statistic by piling a giant mound of clothing waste in the middle of the city. So what are the solutions? (1)

Even if we could stop the production of the cheap fast fashion and ensure that we all purchase pre-loved garments from charity stores, they will all inevitably reach the rag stage. We need to develop more efficient ways to recycle and create a circular economy from the rags and give new meaning to the saying ‘from rags to riches.’

H&M is one clothing company that are able to recycle clothing to a certain extent however this technology is only in its infancy and needs much more research and funding.

A 2016 H&M sustainability report reveals that only 0.7 per cent of their clothes are actually made from recycled or other sustainably sourced materials. In the report H&M acknowledges:

“Today, this is not possible because the technology for recycling is limited. For this reason, the share of recycled materials in our products is still relatively small.”

In fact their 2016 annual report states:

“More research is needed if a greater proportion of recycled fibres is to be added to the garments without compromising quality, and also to be able to separate fibres contained in mixed materials.”(2)

As companies like H&M and other fashion designers are working on developing improved technologies to recycle clothing and reduce waste, as a consumer we can do our bit too.

  • Avoid impulse shopping and resist retail therapy. Spend the money you save on a holiday or put it towards finishing a home renovation or another project that can bring a lasting reward and satisfaction.
  • If you need a new clothing item, consider borrowing it, purchasing second hand or through a clothes swap.
  • Avoid purchasing cheap, low quality items that will wear out quickly and may not be able to be repaired. This about the true cost environmentally and socially of cheap fashion.  Instead purchase good quality clothing made from sustainable natural materials if possible such as hemp, organic cotton, silk, wool or ramie.
  • Reduce the number of items of clothing and shoes you have and get creative with different ways of mixing and matching items.  Did you know that we typically only use 20% of the clothing and shoes that we have and the other 80% is kept for a ‘what if’ moment eg. wedding, job interview or trip to the snow. So ‘what if’ we donated or gave away that other 80% and made some clear space or even reduced our need to buy another wardrobe or rent storage space for fitting all our stuff into?

Why is it that we have made it socially awkward to be seen going out in the same outfit more than once? Perhaps we need to get a new attitude towards this, rather than a new outfit?

  • Check out how Beau Johnson can create 50 different looks reusing just 15 different items of clothing on her TED talk – 2 adults, 2 kids, zero waste. Why not see how many times you can reuse and restyle by mixing and matching the clothing you have?
  • If the clothing is in good condition, donate it to charity such as Diabetes SA Ph: 08 8234 1977, Salvation Army Ph: 137 258, St Vincent De Paul Ph: 08 8112 8777 or Goodwill Ph: 08 8202 5070. Winter Clothing can be donated to Red Cross – 08 8100 4500
  • Reuse or repurpose clothing to create another clothing item, bedding and accessories. Click here for some ideas or search the web for more.
  • If clothes are worn out use them as rags for cleaning or mechanical work or donate them to be used as industrial rags. Click here for more information on industrial rags.
  • Some clothing (preferably natural fibres) can be used for weed matting in your garden, a community garden or through Landcare or Bushcare.

Donating to charity is often incorrectly named as recycling when it is really reusing. Recycling is the process of breaking down or shredding the material then using the fibres to make new clothing or fabric items.

  • Although some companies such as H&M are recycling some of their clothing the technology isn’t yet developed to allow for this to be done on a larger scale, using higher percentages of recycled content.
  • Shredding of fabric to use for sound absorption, insulation and stuffing is another way to recycle clothing.
  • Items made from entirely from pure wool, cotton, silk, linen, hemp and ramie (or a blend of any of those) will compost down. They will all take a while in your own compost bin. Tear them up to help them break down quicker.
  • You may also place these items in your green lidded bin for composting but please make sure there are no synthetic or plastic materials!


References 1-2: Growable fabrics and zero-waste clothes: Fashion needs to do more to tackle its big problemThe Conversation By Mark Liu, TS, Posted 

Recommended Reading: ‘Over Dressed’ The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.