How an old piece of clothing ends up as toxic waste in another part of the world.

What happens to the old clothes you donate? 

Have you ever thought about what happens to the clothes after you have donated them?

Maybe your garments are keeping someone warm now or are bringing joy to someone else. But some of your clothes also end up on a giant mountain of trash, rotting into a toxic substance thousands of kilometres away from you.  

What happens to the clothes after you give them away?

The most common ways of donating clothes are to give them to second-hand or charity shops, putting them in used-clothes containers, such as the ones from Rotes Kreuz, or recycling bins. 

While donating clothes and the second-hand market can create a sustainable system of expanding the clothing’s life, the current state of our garments in combination with the amount of garments produced have a much larger negative impact. 

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the number of times a garment is worn has decreased by 36% between 2000-2015. In the same period, global clothing production has doubled, tremendously affecting the quality and longevity of a piece of clothing.

In the UK alone, around 650,000 tonnes of unwanted clothes are annually given away to charity shops through donations, charity collections and in other ways. Of this volume, only 30% is sold in the UK through charity shops, online or vintage shops. Besides this, around 330,000 tonnes of textiles are sent to landfill every year (in 2017). 

Overall, in the EU, only around 50% of collected clothes are reused, also including exporting them to other countries. The other 50% is recycled. However, from this percentage, merely 1% is made into new clothes and 35% turns into industrial rags. In addition, we hear about the unwanted clothes being shipped to different countries. So what exactly is happening to them?

The impact of clothing waste on African countries. 

The poor quality garments that can’t be resold in charity shops or second-hand shops are often sent abroad by second-hand distributors, often ending up polluting these countries. 

Ghana is one of them, receiving the majority of the UK’s second-hand clothing. The UK is the second biggest exporter of worn clothing in the world (in 2018). 

The number of clothes that arrive in Ghana has reached a breaking point, where it overwhelms the infrastructure of the country and impacts the country socially and environmentally. 

The majority of clothes are sent to the main market, Kantamanto, which are mainly unsaleable. Due to the lack of recycling systems, around 40% of the clothes have to be dumped into the country and landfill sites. 

The export of clothing to countries such as Ghana enables them to establish or improve their local textile trade.

The environmental impact of the clothes are also significant: Not only do synthetic fibres need up to 200 years to decompose, but the mountain of trash also turns into a toxic substance, allowing greenhouse gases and chemicals to get into surrounding air and soil. 

What can you do?

Some crucial steps can be taken to reduce the number of clothes ending up where you don’t want them to.

Some may think the first step of action can be taken when going through the clothes you own. In fact, action can already be taken at the moment of purchasing a new item. 

When we only buy clothes with the aim to keep them for a long period, we can’t only reduce the fashion footprint but also reduce the number of unwanted clothes sent to landfill. According to the World Bank, 40% of clothing purchased in some countries is never used.

After your purchase, the life of a piece of clothing expands by mending or repairing it throughout its time. More and more brands offer repair services or repair kits, supporting longevity. 

Second-hand clothing and hand-me-down clothes are still a sustainable option when executed consciously. When passing on clothes to charity shops, always check the quality of the garment and ask yourself if you would want it to be passed on. 

How does Kleiderly contribute?

At Kleiderly, we have made it our mission to reduce the amount of clothes that end up in landfill, in countries such as Ghana. We want to give unwanted clothes and overproduction a new, sustainable life by turning them into clothing hangers. 

Kleiderly solves two problems: Unwanted clothes and oil-based plastic use. 



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