The Truth Behind Donating Clothes

If you've been with 1 Million Women for a while, you might already know that the fashion industry is the third biggest polluting industry in the world but did you know clothing production has more than doubled since 2000, with consumers purchasing 60% more clothing wearing it for only half as long? So what is happening to all those clothes that are being discarded?

Let me take you back; probably not all that far back. It's a new season, maybe you're moving house, maybe you just feel the need for a refresh. You've made two piles of clothes on the bed. Keep and donate. You're doing a good thing, right? Giving away your old clothes that don't make you feel as fresh anymore, the ones with a button missing or the top you impulse bought to match a trend which is now well and truly over.

From a young age we're taught donating clothes is one of the best and easiest ways to contribute toward a better, cleaner and kinder world. We're told the clothes we've put aside will be taken to those born into less privilege than ourselves across the planet, will help less fortunate members of society find their feet and most importantly by donating our clothing, they won't end up in landfill. But what about all those clothes that don't make it to the shelves of our local second hand shop? Or never make it into the cupboards of savvy thrift shoppers? Where do they go?

Kantamanto Market, Accra, Ghana. The OR Foundation.

Kantamanto market lies on the banks of the Korle Lagoon in Ghana's capital city of Accra. Whilst inside the market is a busy, bustling maze of stalls, outside Cattle grazes on 20 metre high mountains of toxic landfill, 60% of which is discarded donated clothing. Children and families pick through the mass for anything resellable, always weary that at any point it may catch fire from the accumulation of methane and other toxic gases, like it has in the past. Come monsoon season the textiles wash into the lagoon, polluting the water with twisted ropes of synthetic fabrics and blocking waterways causing sewerage systems to flood and leave water in stagnant pools, breeding grounds for bacteria and disease. The clothes that are not yet amongst this pile are sold in the market. They've been sent in full shipping containers in bales as big as 55kgs each and carried on the backs of women known as 'Kayayei' or 'Women who carry the burden', for around $4.50 per day. Bought and sold by numerous traders before reaching their final home. The donated clothing is an industry within itself, with approximately 15million used garments pouring into Accra every week from the UK, Europe, North America and Australia - 40% of this is deemed unwearable and dumped upon arrival.This percentage is growing each day with the quality of the clothing dramatically reducing as the West's obsession with fast fashion increases. This means clothes made by brands like Zara, Target and Billabong are quickly tossed aside alongside plenty of more expensive brands where the clothes are in bad condition and may be missing buttons, have sweat or makeup stains or small tears. The growing number of low quality clothing is what is leading to Kantamanto and the world's textile waste crises.

Whilst Australia's fashion industry may not produce on the same scale as the US or UK, on a per capita basis Australia is the highest consumer of textiles anywhere in the world outside of the US and only 7% of these clothes are classified as recycled; although with over 6 million garments leaving places like Kantamanto as waste, every week, it is likely this percentage is significantly less.

In Australia the textile & fashion industry has been highly unregulated and subsequently the impact underestimated in comparison to things like plastic waste or aviation pollution. This has meant little importance has been given to the issue until fairly recently. In May 2021, former Environment Minister Sussan Ley hosted the 'Industry Clothing Textiles Waste Roundtable and Exhibition.' The event highlighted the need for national co-ordinated action to tackle the issue of textile waste and crucially the importance of developing a circular economy approach as a major part of the solution in reaching sustainability goals. In November 2021, "$1 million was awarded to the Australian Fashion Council through the National Product Stewardship Investment Fund to establish Australia's first National Production Stewardship Scheme for clothing textiles, which will provide "a roadmap to 2030 for clothing circularity in Australia in line with National Waste Policy Action Plan targets".

Whilst national attention, at a parliamentary level is crucial in finding a solution, what are some of the things we, the average consumer can do to combat such a big issue?


Whilst over capitalism of thrift stores due to demand means thrifting is not a perfect solution, it is absolutely a step in the right direction. When we think about our clothes, we need to think in terms of circularity. There are already enough garments in the world that we should each be able to express our personal style yet never buy a brand new item ever again. The clothes we wear should start and end at thrift stores for others in our local communities, not across the seas, to purchase, rewear and bring new life to.

Buy Quality

One of the most important steps in tackling the clothing waste crises is to take the time to learn about clothing. From figuring out your personal style and avoiding impulse purchasing to learning what makes something good quality, from the type of fabrics, to the stitching to the sustainability processes of the brand. Here is a great blog post on how to make sure you're buying quality clothing.

Take Care of What You Have.

Learning about the fabrics will inevitably help in learning how to take care of the individual items. Always check the care label to make sure you're extending the life of your clothing as much as possible and if you have the time to learn a new skill, why not learn to sew. Mending your clothing, whether it's patching up your ripped jeans or just sewing on a loose button is the best way to extend the longevity of your clothes! How many times have we reached for an old favourite top before remembering its missing a button and putting it back in the wardrobe until it eventually gets donated or thrown away? And if an item is beyond repair and not in a good shape for donation, get creative with what else you could do with it! Could it become your next beeswax wrap or tea-towel? Maybe you could use the fabric scraps to tie up plants in your veggie patch. There are a number of ways to reuse old clothing instead of sending it to landfill. Have a read here to get some more ideas!.

Donate (As a Last resort)

Much like recycling, donating clothes should be a last resort. You may have read this blog and decided donating your clothes is no longer an option. Donating clothes is still very much a valid way to contribute to a circular fashion 'economy' but it is crucial to ensure what you're donating still has lots of wear and would have a decent resale value. In our current state, only 15% of clothing donated to second hand stores is able to be resold; the rest goes straight to Australian landfill or is exported and likely ends up in landfill overseas. Don't think of donating clothing in terms of sending it off to someone who has no other choice, we know from the statistics coming from places like Kantamanto that this simply isn't true. If you are going to donate clothes, the first question you need to ask yourself is, is this something I would give to a friend and expect them to wear happily without needing it to be dramatically changed, mended or revamped? If the answer is no, it's time to find a new purpose for that item and if the answer is yes, consider your donating options! Is there someone local who could use a hand? Or possibly a clothing swap coming up that you could contribute to. If you're not sure if an item is suitable to donate, you can always check with your local second hand shop. Remember these places are often run by volunteers so if they don't have the time to individually check your item, make sure you've checked their online guidelines and that you've done your best to ensure the item is in its best condition.

Written by Chloe Beckley. Header Image from Unsplash.

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