Ever wondered what happens to your clothes after you put them in a donation clothing bin? No? Presumably the clothing is directly transported onto shelves for resale. Right?
We recently headed over to St Vincent de Paul in Stanmore Road to find out what they are doing with the clothing they receive in their clothing bins. Fed up with paying for waste clothing to go to landfill they felt that they could do better and come up with new solutions for the clothing that they could not sell.
Interestingly, here in Christchurch only 25-30% of donated clothing actually enters the St Vincent de Paul stores. The other 65-75%, due to donations being of such a poor quality (yes, clothing bins donations require a level of wear-ability), are dumped. Into landfill. Until now.
St Vincent de Paul has decided to reuse the unwearable clothing in a different way. By approaching local industries the charity found that some of the clothing can be turned into usable rags, customised to the requirements of local businesses who can use them (not just in a couple of sizes). The rest of the unwearable clothing is stockpiled waiting for a solution – currently four containers have been filled.
The purchase of a commercial over-locker has allowed a skilled machinist to customize toweling specifically for car groomers and cleaners and t-shirt material is specifically for mechanics (good oil absorbtion). With an increase in demand from these services the reserve of toweling fabric is now running low. This is a welcomed income input for the charity.
In comparison to St Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army has 40% of their donated clothing going to local shops for resale and 60% is sold on to a third party who exports the clothing to Africa.
Most surprisingly, the Red Cross imports clothing from Australia, with orders (like a commercial store) being placed to a central warehouse hub across the Tasman. 128 tonnes of second hand clothes were shipped into Tauranga, as quoted in The Press (05/05/2010) due to insufficient donations of a high enough quality from within New Zealand for resale in New Zealand stores. With 4% of waste nationally* being textile waste, the 128 tonnes is an unfortunate addition to the future waste stream.
There are non charitable businesses that work within this small industry also; Tasman Traders and Doonans are rag traders who take old clothing and make them into rags of a few sizes (although not customized for each service like St Vincent de Paul are doing) – and although a percentage of their profits go to charity, this may be as little as 1%. The Traders bins out number charity bins, with hundreds distributed around Christchurch city. Currently the Red Cross have no bins, and St Vincent de Paul have 22 at Catholic parishes around Christchurch.
We have a long way to go yet before we have successfully tackled textile waste but in the meantime here are a few tips to ensure your clothes are sold once you have donated them:
So some tips before you put your clothes into the charity bin:
• Check the quality – no rips or stains
• Wash them first
• Ring your local charity to see if they have any specific requirements before you donate them
• If they aren’t really wearable, think of the uses around the house first – turn them into rags (cleaning the car, windows, washing pets etc)
• Some charities also take household goods like sheets, towels, kitchen and cook ware
• Be mindful of the amount of clothing you buy each year – remember to reduce your consumption first.
An estimated 3.156 million tonnes of waste went to landfill in 2006 making the textile waste portion of 4% in 2007/2008 equivalent to 126,240 tonnes just in textiles or 31.5kg per person per year. In Christchurch the total waste to landfill in 2009/2010 was estimated to be 170,000 tonnes – using the national percentage of 4% of textile waste to landfill that’s 6800 tonnes just to Kate Valley Landfill or 19.5kg per person per year.