The two teenage daughters were so excited about the gifts that they had purchased for their dad. Three new shirts from his favorite clothing store were the first gifts they had ever bought themselves. For his part, their Dad loved the shirts and was thrilled that they spent their own money. The girls were beaming. The sisters loved watching their Dad open his gifts, nearly as much as they enjoyed opening their own.
How many new clothing items did your family receive for Christmas this year? How many new shirts, shoes, socks, and sweatshirts were given to you, your husband, and your two daughters? Once you have done all of the unpacking of the gifts, what’s next? Do you simply shove these new items into your already crowded closets and drawers, or do you thoughtfully address your current inventory of clothing. If you know that one of the charities that pick up clothing donations is coming through your neighborhood that same week, are you likely to sort through your old clothes before moving in the new gift items?
While many Americans are somewhat careless about recycling, they are often fairly generous when it comes to old or unworn clothing. The automated phone calls that announce when the charities that pick up clothing donations will be coming through neighborhoods, in fact, are a signal for many families to sort through their current belongings.
In the year 2007, for example, an estimated $5.8 billion in donated clothing and other wearable items were made to charitable organizations throughout America.
Unfortunately, even with all of these donations, many clothing items and other fabrics end up in landfills across the country. Although an estimated 2 million tons of clothing and other fabrics were recycled or donated to U.S. charities in 2011, that recovery rate for all textiles that year was only 15.3%.
Donated clothing obviously benefits families in need, but it also provides many jobs. For instance, charity donations are often sorted and resold at low price retail sites across the country. Those secondhand retail stores often employ a workforce that otherwise might have a difficult time finding work. Charities that pick up clothing donations also separate clothing that is no longer wearable, but can be recycled. The recycled fabric industry is another part of the American economy that employes thousands of people, but also creates a reusable product that benefits the environment.
Perhaps it is because many Americans have so much space to keep so many things, but for whatever reason, donating clothing is done routinely by only a portion of the society. Perhaps if more people understood the impact that these items could have to the recipients and to the environment, more people would make donating and recycling clothing more of a habit.