In the West, an item of clothing goes across a long way since when it is thrown out of our wardrobe until its very end. This long way splits into several paths, some of them more legal than others, and some others more ethical than others. The destination of clothing from the clothes drop off bins and from the market of second-hand clothes show a very different picture depending on the intention of the management.
One Spanish person buys from eight to nine kilos of clothes every year, and recycles only between one and 1.5 kilos annually. The destination of used clothing is in many cases controversial but, in other cases, it is example of collaboration, solidarity and innovation in the search for ways of giving a second life to clothes in good condition.
One of the images associated with used clothing are clothes drop off bins. In most large cities they have become part of the landscape. They are usually managed by entities which identified themselves as NGOs although the true purpose of their activities are often subject of suspicions, as well as the final destination of the clothes that they collect. The costs of installation and maintenance of one of those bins vary from one town to another, and it is usually between 420 and 600 Euros. This is why some organizations give rise to discussions; they have to face accusations of being using the image of cooperation while hiding a selling clothes business.
But the use and recycling of clothing do not need to be associated with scandal. Buying second-hand clothes is a common practice in Nordic countries and it has slowly come to the rest of Europe. It consists mainly of getting branded clothes in good condition for a low price. The sellers profit from a textile material they no longer want, buyers get low cost clothes, and intermediary companies have developed a market niche, so far untapped, but which is amazingly growing in many countries every year.
It is in this last case where many NGOs actions take place. They evaluated the high cost of the transportation of the clothes from the countries of collection to the developing countries, and they chose a new strategy: to sell that clothes and to use the profits in activities and projects in the developing countries.
As many other matters related to cooperation or collaboration, there are different perspectives from which one can look at a certain fact. To send cloth material to poor countries can be considered a valuable and praiseworthy action, but it can also be seen as an intrusion into the market of these countries, as unfair competition with the native textile companies.
But there are even more activities related to the second life of used clothing: Textile recycling workshops are held in many different centres in any city as way to save money and to give a new image to clothes that are no longer being used. Clothing is used to design accessories or new clothes. The manufacture of carpets and blankets made out of used wool garments also works in this way.
And we can even talk about one more example: Interestingly, the highest percentage of second-hand clothing is purchased by industries of all kinds to transform it into cleaning supplies.
Whatever the case may be more or less ethical, or more or less supportive, we can conclude that to throw away clothes in good condition to a trash bin is the least suitable, the least green and the least smart choice. In nowadays world, in which the optimization of resources is the main objective, to give a second life to any shirt or dress is a good step to take.
Written by Eurodesk Qualified Multiplier, Instituto de la Juventud de Extremadura