Whether you’ve embraced a minimalist lifestyle or adopted a capsule wardrobe with steady basics to get you by, the process of cleaning out the closet leaves you with the big question of finding the most environmentally-friendly way to get rid of items you choose to discard. 

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While it might seem obvious to donate them to the nearest Green Drop, Goodwill or St. Vincent DePaul, you might want to understand what actually happens to your clothes once you’ve been handed your donation receipt. 

Related: New York is curbing food waste and helping people in need with a new initiative

A white woman holding up to articles of clothing with clothes scattered around here

Pros of clothing donations

Obviously, the goal of donating your clothes is to avoid contributing to the waste stream. The longer any item is in circulation the better. Manufacturing is a water and energy-consumptive process. A single pair of jeans can use over 900 gallons of water during production. That makes it important to give clothing the longest lifespan possible. This isn’t only true for clothing, but also for accessories like belts, hats, scarves and jewelry. 

For clothing and accessories in good to great condition, donating is one great way to give others an opportunity to enjoy your lightly-used goods. So in addition to not yet ending up in the landfill, your clothes can provide warmth, function or fashion to those who have a use for them. 

There’s also the tax benefits of donating clothing and household items. Just be sure to check with the IRS for the proper dollar amount to use when calculating your tax write-off. 

Best of all, donating your clothes is having them out of your house. You’ll have more room in your closet and drawer, and you can stop tripping over the boxes and bags set out in the garage or entryway for donation drop-off.

A clear plastic box filled with clothes with a sticky note on it that reads Donation. There is also a stack of clothes next to the box

Cons of clothing donations

Unfortunately, there is an ugly side to all donations. The reality is: A vast amount of what is donated is diverted away from the sales floor

It might happen when the initial donation is sorted after leaving your trunk. Or it might happen after the goods are trucked to a centralized sorting center. Perhaps even worse, it might happen after items are sorted, cleaned, priced, put out for sale and then pulled a few weeks later to make room for new inventory.

Another startling fact: Up to 90% of clothing collected at charities ends up at textile recyclers. Now, recycling is much better than directly going to the garbage. In fact, turning once-loved clothing into rags, carpet pad, yarn or paper might even be listed as a pro instead of a con. But, recycling clothes before they’ve reached their end of useful life is wasteful, both in the original production of the item and in the water, energy and transport required to convert the material into something else. 

If your discarded tees, sweaters and jeans don’t make it into the hands of another community member, they will likely end up being shipped to another country — often Africa. While this process may seem like philanthropy, what’s happening is profit margins soar for the sellers in the U.S. who base the price on the pound rather than the quality.

Then, the clothes are basically dumped in the streets for customers to pick through in markets. This influx of used clothing is having a devastating impact on the local economy and crushing the small businesses that produce clothing via traditional means. The practice not only drives out customs, but is clearing out Indigenous-run businesses along with them. As a result, many countries are working to ban the import of clothing and shoes to protect the local industries. 

Deceptively, even the clothes sent back to the original manufacturers are typically not used to produce new clothing. That’s partly because any blend of materials is difficult to separate for reuse. Instead, they end up back at the same textile recycling plants and, after a long journey, in a mechanic’s hands.

A drawer full of clothes

Other options for your used clothing

Clothing is made from material, which can be used for many other things. Instead of launching bags full of fabric into the recycling process, use them at home. Make rags for the garage or for cleaning windows. 

Get crafty with your outdated fashion by sending team shirts and other memorabilia to a company like the U.S.-based Project Repat. They employ Veterans to convert your prized clothing into memory quilts. 

Similarly, you can turn clothing into rugs, purses, pillow cases, door draft-stopper, stuffed animals or even a different type of attire. 

You can also gift your clothes directly through a Buy Nothing community or online marketplace pages for selling or donating. Also give to families with similar-aged children or host a clothing swap for any age group. 

Clothes on a clothesline with a show of a hand on one of the shirts

How to reduce your clothing footprint

We all wear clothes and it’s unrealistic to think we’ll never throw out another shirt. But there are ways to minimize the impact of our clothing habits. 

Firstly, and most simply, be very conscious about what you bring into your home. The easiest way to reduce waste is not to produce waste. Choose durable clothing made from natural materials. Avoid fast-fashion and invest in quality pieces that are versatile instead. Also purchase clothes on the second-hand market, extending their usable lifespan. 

Lastly, only buy clothes you love. Make sure it fits just right. If you’re going to forget about it as soon as you get home, don’t make the purchase. In fact, leave it at the store and see if you’re motivated enough to come back for it once it’s out of sight. 

Via Reader’s Digest

Images via Pexels