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Giving to charity - am I really helping?

I’ve heard cheap clothing described as ‘throwaway fashion’ before but I never actually imagined that people were literally throwing it away.

When I’m done with something, it goes into a bag, but not a bin bag. I take everything I don’t want, other than underwear, to charity shops. I presume that as most of my clothes aren’t expensive, but are clean and looked after, without holes or furballs from the cat attached, that they are put out on the rails. Anything which is in a state is used as a rag to clean shoes, wipe condensation off my car window, wipe the cat’s feet when she’s covered in mud.

I donate shoes that I’ve worn a couple of times, but are so painful that they have ended up making me walk like I’ve just been hit by a car. I donate books that I buy from charity shops, having read them, passed them on to friends, and asked for them back so that I can take them back to another charity shop. I don’t so much recycle but re-recycle.

So why is it that people are putting their unwanted clothes out with their potato peelings? Are they really wearing their Matalan jeans out so fast that they’re threadbare and un-sellable, even for a couple of quid?

Perhaps they are – I don’t imagine that a pair of £6 jeans would last much longer than a handful of outings before they lost their shape, or made their owner look like they’d lost theirs, but I’ve never managed to wear anything out – at least since I stopped falling off my bike or rolling about in the garden. Mind you, I was going to say which was in about 1980, but I did both last year, so forget that.

What I’m wondering is this: if you take a bag of cheap clothes which are a little out of shape, perhaps a bit faded, to Oxfam, what do they do with them? Is it the charity shops which are binning donations which aren’t up to selling standard? How do we know what happens to the clothes which aren’t sold?

I’d like to think that they’re sent to war torn countries where I’m sure a 12-year-old girl would be quite okay with wearing a jumper with stars printed on it and wouldn’t think of questioning the fact that it’s ‘so last season’.

But does this happen? Do charity shops just sell, or do they give? If they don’t do the latter, then perhaps the charities themselves are partly to blame. With new clothes now costing less than second-hand, I’d rather my bag of books, clothes and uncomfortable shoes were sent directly to people who are crying out for them.

Isn’t it time charities focussed on helping those who need it, rather than worrying about whether my cast-offs are good enough for the general public?

And isn’t it better to sell second-hand clothes for 50p and sell them all, than price a George at ASDA top at £4, which is probably what it cost new? I’d like to keep on helping the aged and saving the children, but what I want to know is this – am I really helping?

Readers' comments (3)

  • Jessica Good

    My grandmother runs a Sally Army charity shop in Yorkshire. About 80% of the donations she receives are not good enough to sell. Usually becuase they are dirty or damaged. Anything that cannot be sold on the shop floor is bagged up for the rag man to collect once a week. They get £2 per black sack for the rags which are recycled and processed for industrial use.
    I have no idea where they end up, but on a trip to China a few years back I discovered a warehouse where hundreds of women were sitting sorting out scraps and offcuts from garment manufacture into colours for recycling. I have never seen anything like it since - the quantities were huge.

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  • You are helping a great deal by donating your unwanted goods to charity shops. A single "black bag" of unwanted clothing, for example, will typically make £5-£8 in profit for much needed charity funds. Sometimes, it’ll raise much, much more.
    Charities need cash to operate, and charity shops exist to help raise that cash. They will, of course, raise as much as they can, whilst promoting environmental reuse of goods, giving customers a good deal and promoting the charity’s brand on the High Street. Donating unwanted goods to charity shops helps in so many ways. Please keep doing so!

    David Moir, Association of Charity Shops

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  • Thanks for your respones to my blog. It's interesting to know that the tat is in some cases recycled - I'd still like to know if Oxfam, for example, send clothes to those in need or whether what isn't sold ends up being recycled or thrown away. David, perhaps you could enlighten me. I'd like to write a piece on this subject for a national, to encourage people to donate to charity rather than throw their clothes out, but also to make it clear that charities aren't there to be used as a rubbish dump. If you would be interested in talking to me (in the New Year), please email me at - thank you.

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