With the “spring cleaning” season upon us, you may be wondering where to donate things and how to do so responsibly. Or you’re just wondering where to donate the pile you’ve accumulated but NOW you’re wondering what “responsibly” means!
Isn’t donating to places like Goodwill or ARC a good thing? You give them the stuff you don’t want, other people buy it — what’s not responsible about that?
To be honest, I’ve given many things to thrift stores over the years and have only recently begun to question if that’s actually a sustainable practice. Once I started looking into the process all our donated items go through within the big-name thrift store system, I was really shocked by what I found.
Not to pick on any particular store over another, but let’s just use Goodwill as the example. We’ll use clothing as our item in question.
So, what happens to our donated clothing at Goodwill?
First, we need to acknowledge how much is disposed as a result of our excessive consumerism. Goodwill stores in New York and New Jersey alone collected nearly 86 million pounds of textile donations in 2018! (source) That staggering amount will help the next pieces of information make more sense.
If your clothing does not sell within 4 weeks in the Goodwill retail store, then it’s sent to a Goodwill outlet. The prices are kept super low and people are encouraged to shop by the pound. If it’s not sold there, it moves on to Goodwill auctions for people to bid on bins of items without knowing exactly what’s inside. After that, clothing is sent on to textile recycling facilities – many of which are overseas. If the clothing is contaminated in any way, it’s then sent into the landfills.
With fast-fashion trends ever changing, the amount of clothing that doesn’t sell is incredibly high and is then sent to be recycled or dumped in the landfill. If you’re wondering what textile recycling looks like overseas, you can watch this mind-blowing video. The vast amount of imported clothing from the U.S. and Europe has “devastated local clothing industries and led the region to rely far too heavily on the West.” (source) Many developing countries are working to ban these imports, with their goal being to “boost local manufacturing and create new jobs.” Discarded clothing sold in these countries is so cheap that it makes locally produced clothing look expensive. They can’t compete.
And they shouldn’t have to.
Our excessive consumerism shouldn’t be their burden to carry.
This example only focused on clothing. We didn’t even get into all the other random stuff that’s donated and goes through the same process within an organization like Goodwill. If items cannot be sold or salvaged/recycled, they are also ending up in the landfill.
Like I said earlier, this is not to pick on any specific thrift store chain. I also want to express my appreciation for all the efforts toward reducing the amount that gets dumped as trash. Because, let’s face it:
So. Many. Thrift stores. Get treated. Like. Dumps.
We can’t simply analyze what happens to all of our donations and get mad if they’re not actually being used again when we created the mess. Remember that number earlier — 86 million pounds of collected textile waste in New York and New Jersey alone??
We need to cut off this overflow at its source. Turn off the faucet.
So, before I get into the ways you can responsibly donate things, let’s consider a few points.
- Ask yourself: do I need to buy this thing? And do I need to buy it new or can I find it secondhand? We first need to reduce our level of unnecessary consumerism before anything else.
- Can you mend or upcycle an item? I have a whole blog post on repairs! And things like old t-shirts can easily be turned into no-sew reusable shopping bags or cut into cloth scraps for cleaning.
- Consider the quality of what you’re donating. Is it actually going to sell? Is it in need of mending? If it’s likely going to be considered junk, please don’t bother sending it to a donation center. Look for ways to mend, upcycle, or recycle it properly. (I’ve also got a whole blog post on how to recycle right!)
As you become more mindful of your own consumerism, your habits will change. This truly makes a big difference.
The amount of stuff I bring into the home has dropped significantly with this heightened awareness, but I still have stuff to give away. After considering my options, I decide whether or not I should mend, recycle, or donate. If donating makes the most sense, then I look into where to donate responsibly so that my items have the best chance of being given another life!
Where To Donate (Responsibly)
You can totally donate to chain thrift stores — I’m not against it. But I would emphasize once more to be very mindful about what it is that you’re donating.
If you’re looking to make a bigger impact and want a better guarantee that your items will be used locally, I’ve got you covered. Below are some *ideas for where to donate responsibly within Colorado and elsewhere.
*most of these places are still accepting donations with no in-person contact during this COVID-19 pandemic — see their websites for more details.
For kids and families:
- Colorado Family Life Center (specifically takes all baby essentials, clothing up to 3T, nursing bras, and toiletries)
- WeeCycle (accepts donations for ages 0-3)
- Clothes to Kids Denver (accepts clothing and shoes for students all the way through highschool / GED program)
- PCs for People (they can repair, resell, and recycle electronics)
- The Village Institute (serving refugee families and collecting toys, furniture, and other kid’s supplies)
For the homeless:
- Impact Humanity (free clothing store in Denver; camping gear also accepted)
- Denver Voice (drop off toiletries at their office)
Some of these places are also tax-deductible, if that’s of interest to you!
- Research causes you care about and look for charities or trustworthy organizations that you can donate to in your area! (Always ask others for recommendations — I was thankful to receive some great tips from friends recently on some of the organizations above)
- Donate old linens and towels to pet shelters!
- Check for local church drives or see if your friends and family are in need or know someone in need.
- Have you seen those “little free libraries” throughout neighborhoods? The idea is that you take a book and leave a book. During this current COVID-19 pandemic, many of these are being turned into “little free pantries!” You could always contribute OR create your own if there’s a need in your neighborhood!
- If you’re looking to sell your items, Craigslist and Poshmark are two of Kevin’s and my favorite tools. So easy to use!
For a few more ideas, check out this link.
Consume Sustainably, Donate Responsibly
We all have a responsibility to take care of this earth we call home. Growing up, I was taught to leave someone’s place better than I found it. How much more so does this apply to the planet we all share??
Be mindful of what you consume. Think of the resources it takes to bring an item into the world. Think of the many lives this one item impacts.
And think ahead.
When all is said and done, how will you extend the life of this item beyond just your time with it?
– Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia
“The more you know, the less you need.”