You have sorted through your clothes, picked out the things you no longer want, and taken them down to your local Planet Aid donation box. As you release the bin handle and send the bags on their way you consider how much better to donate than dispose of clothes in the trash. That T-shirt you bought years ago in Florida but never wore or the Nikes that had seen better days were old or worn, but hardly worn out. Someone could get months and maybe years of additional use. Throwing them away would truly be a waste.
But then you think about where your stuff will go and to whom? Will your T-shirt stay in your neighborhood? Does it matter? Why? If these thoughts have crossed your mind, you are not alone. The fate of used clothing donations has been the source of some confusion and even controversy.
In this inaugural issue of the Planet Aid Post, we shed light on what happens to your clothes once dropped in a donation bin. We describe how the global trade in used clothes works, how donations are used, for what purpose and by whom. We hope that it helps answer your questions and provides you with a better appreciation for just how much your donation matters.
Global Poor Sent to Extremes
The economic downturn that began in 2008 has been a major factor in expanding the ranks of the very poor. The rate at which people become impoverished in the U.S. has risen faster than any other comparable period since the early 1980s.
Unfortunately, today 15.4 million Americans live in extreme poverty. This number is the largest ever recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau. Extreme poverty for a family of four in the U.S. means that their cash income is about $30 a day or less.
Beyond the U.S. borders the problem is more serious. Currently there are approximately 3 billion people in the developing world trying to live on less than $2 per day. The World Bank estimates that in 2010 alone an additional 64 million people were pushed into extreme poverty in developing nations. Across Africa, South and Central America, and Asia, villages are beset by growing hunger, starvation, and disease. Many individuals, particularly children, are caught in a struggle just to survive.
Planet Aid is Born
In 1997 a small group of individuals came together in the Boston area with the idea of doing something good for the planet and the poor. To support their efforts, they started a nonprofit to save used clothing from disposal. They then sold the clothing they collected to raise needed funds.
Not Just a Shirt on Your Back
Ever wonder what is involved in making your favorite T-shirt? Probably not, so here's a crash course. Long before your shirt arrived at a store, a farmer plowed, planted and sowed the cotton. He watered, fertilized, and sprayed the growing plants with pesticides and herbicides so bugs wouldn't eat them and weeds wouldn't kill them.
'Reincarnating' Your Clothing for a Triple Play
When you donate a used shirt you set many possibilities in motion. Your shirt can be 'reincarnated' as someone's new prized possession or return to life as the insulation in your walls, padding under your carpet, paper for your printer, stuffing for your couch, or even as a new shirt. Recycling truly has multiple benefits. The synergy of the Planet Aid recycling model expands these possibilities, creating a unique 'win-win-win' scenario. Here's how the 'triple win' works.
Why Charities Collect and Sell Used Clothing and Shoes
Drive past a grocery store parking lot and you will probably see one or more colorful donation bins. Clothing drives are now commonplace, as are school campaigns encouraging students to donate clothes and shoes. Millions of tons are collected by charities and clothing banks every year. Yet, even when their volumes are combined, all non-profits, businesses, recycling centers, and thrift stores collect only 15 percent of all potentially recyclable textiles.
A World Hungry for Used Clothes
When did clothes recycling get its start? Did it begin in the 1960s or 70s when 'ecology' first became an environmental buzz word? Clothes recycling actually started soon after the wonder of woven fabric was perfected. After learning how plant fibers and animal wool could be spun and fashioned into cloth, ancient civilizations quickly came to prize fabrics the world over. Producing it was labor and resource intensive, so the use and reuse of clothes was not only necessary, but a common activity.
Development That Puts Children First
Planet Aid uses the proceeds it generates by selling used clothing to support smallholder farmers, strengthen education, increase HIV/AIDS prevention, and create community development. An example of one type of development model supported by Planet Aid is the Child Aid Program. Child Aid is implemented by members of Humana People to People in many countries. Planet Aid has been supporting Child Aid projects in Belize, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, India, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Staving Off Hunger in Zimbabwe
From early spring through mid-summer is a time of year commonly referred to as the 'hungry season' in parts of Zimbabwe. This is a period when food from the previous season's crops is running dangerously low and new crops are not ready to yield their harvest.
20,000 Angolan Families Receive Clothing
Receiving a box of used clothing may not seem like much, but to people surviving on little more than a dollar a day it makes a significant difference. In many rural and remote areas of Angola, what little money people earn must go to necessities like food and shelter, and if there is enough left over, maybe medical care.