Planet Aid, USAgain, Gaia Movement USA, and other Tvind-linked used clothes collectors trumpet that they divert discarded garments and other textiles from landfills. But do they really? The global used clothing trade is reportedly worth billions annually. If Tvind companies didn’t collect this valuable commodity, it would surely be collected by other groups.
Planet Aid calls itself “a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that collects and recycles used clothes and shoes …” The company pushes the recycling concept in its PR, yet a Planet Aid rep told the Philadelphia Metropolis in 2012 that “most of the clothing donated to Planet Aid gets sold directly to overseas customers.” That would seem to indicate that most of what Planet Aid collects is not actually recycled.
Let’s be very clear: ‘recycling’ and ‘re-use’ are not the same. ‘Recycling’ is to process discarded items into new products. ‘Re-use’ is discarded items retaining their original form, to be used again. Tvind may refer to ‘re-use’ as if it were ‘recycling’ because it sounds better. While its companies accept tattered oldies useful only for recycling, they seem intent on the more lucrative re-wearable clothing.
Planet Aid and the others have cited EPA data stating that 85% of discarded textiles aren’t recycled but instead go to landfills. But is that statistic being twisted to make it seem that 85% of still usable clothes are just thrown away? It’s important to clarify that EPA data on clothing recycling does not represent all clothing that Americans get rid of, whether by throwing it out, or by giving it away somewhere. Rather, the EPA data pertains only to clothing estimated to have avoided the dump and to have been recycled into new things like rags and insulation.
This means that the EPA does not keep track of the vast quantities of usable clothes that folks give to friends and family, to churches, and to for-profit and nonprofit clothing resellers. Indeed, the very existence of countless organizations collecting such a valuable commodity strongly supports the contention that when Americans part with their re-wearable duds, they don’t recklessly toss them into the trash, as Tvind companies imply.
So it’s likely that most old clothes that do go to a landfill are stained, torn and otherwise unwearable, and that’s the real problem. Solution: we should bag up our ‘non-wearables’ separately (as long as they’re dry and odorless) and take them preferably to a nonprofit like St. Vincent de Paul or the Salvation Army, which sells the stuff by the ton to help needy folks.
If there is any truth to the idea that significant tonnages of garments in good condition are being tossed in the trash, the lion’s share of the blame might justly be laid on the major apparel retailers. According to DailyFinance in 2010: “Letting unsold clothes end up in a landfill is the method of choice. By doing so, retailers and fashion designers believe they will keep unwanted merchandise from flooding the market and protect their brand by preventing their clothes from ending up on, say, a homeless person.”
If Tvind’s companies truly want less clothing in landfills, they should forget collecting on city streets and in parking lots, and instead hit up the major clothing makers.