Thrift stores sort through old clothes donations, keep the good items while the bad and the ugly are sent to garment wholesalers who repackage them and forward to textile recyclers. These companies take unwanted clothes slice and dice them — like you do for vegetables — and sell the fabric for use in various other products, like insulation and paper.
Is this a great eco-friendly solution that’s good for the environment? The surplus of used clothing has outstripped demand from textile recyclers. So some donated clothes may actually end up in the dump, and that’s bad for the environment.
Textile industries in some developing countries are struggling to survive because of the large quantities of used clothes shipped in from places like Europe and the US. Some countries have actually started curtailing these imports to protect and develop their textile industries. The problem gets worse partly because some countries are limiting imports, making it difficult for companies in the West to find a market for their exports — the US alone exports $575.5 million in used clothes annually. Further people are buying a lot of new clothes —many of them extremely cheap — but for buyers with lots of disposable income, it hardly matters as they find it so easy to dispose.
Charities are seeing a rise in donations, with clothes ranging from never worn to barely wearable. As they try to process more and more donated clothes, the textile recyclers they work with are also struggling. In other words, it’s becoming a vicious cycle and that means all the extra has to go somewhere, like in the dump or the incinerator.