How Many Clothes Actually Get Bought from Goodwill?

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Ever wonder where the clothes from Goodwill that don’t get sold go? With thousands of locations across the country and more and more clothes donated every day, what happens to the clothes that don’t get bought? The short answer is that they get sold outside of Goodwill; the long answer is a bit more complicated than that.

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What is Goodwill?

Goodwill is a company that receives clothing donations that they resell to customers at low prices. Founded in Boston in 1902, its roots are based in a similar system to today’s donation and selling process. Goodwill describes itself as a nonprofit organization (NPO), which means they dedicate their organization to furthering a social cause or mission. They are registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so they get their financial support from the general public and government. Eighty-two percent (82%) of Goodwill’s revenue is used to fund employment and training programs for the disabled and others facing challenges to securing employment. 

Goodwill states in the ‘about us’ section on their website that they are a “provider of employment, training and rehabilitation for people of limited employability, and a source of temporary assistance for individuals whose resources were depleted.”

What happens when you donate?

When workers first receive a bag of clothes, they have to sort through it and rule out anything that is wet or mildewy. Ray Tellez, the vice president of retail operations for Goodwill Southern California, said stores in his region track how long each piece of clothing has been on the floor. If an item doesn’t sell within four weeks, it’s sent onward in the process. From Goodwill stores, clothes that don’t sell are sent to Goodwill outlets and 99 cent stores. The goal is to sell as much of the clothing as possible so that they don’t pile up in landfills.

Following that, leftover clothes are sent to Goodwill Auctions, where mystery boxes of donated clothing are sold. Then comes textile recycling. These organizations take leftovers to resell in the U.S. where they are cut and re-processed as furniture insulation or sold to salvage dealers overseas. Putting clothes back into the secondhand market allows these clothes to go through the same cycle again, but selling to salvage dealers can have devastating effects on developing textile industries.

Here’s How it Hurts.

While importing clothing provides resources and potential jobs, in the long run, it can devastate local clothing industries and create areas that rely too heavily on imports. East African countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda have proposed banning all imported used clothing and shoes in the past. Banning imports from countries like the U.S. would encourage local clothing production and boost morale. However, those who’s income depends on shipments and people who believe all-out bans would be ineffective are against such ideas.

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How much of what doesn’t get donated is thrown out?

It’s estimated that only five percent of clothing donated to each store doesn’t get bought, but that multiplies by tons for each store across the country. According to the EPA, landfills received 11.2 million tons of MSW textiles in 2017. The main source of textiles in municipal solid waste (MSW) is thrown out clothes, followed by the furniture, carpets, tires, footwear and other nondurable goods like sheets and towels.

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What Can You Do to Reduce Textile Waste?
  1. Don’t put old clothes straight in the trash. Donating your clothes is a helpful and effective way to reduce waste. The clothes that you give away will go toward helping those in need. If your clothes are beyond a second-life, you can ask your local sanitation department how to properly dispose of these items.
  2. Pass them down or give them away. Check to see if there are any relatives or friends that could take unwanted items off your hands.
  3. Sell the clothes yourself. Whether it’s a yard sale or online, selling the clothes yourself is another welcome way to give your old threads new life.
  4. Buy less. It’s the obvious, but perhaps most unwanted option. Consider more thoughtful purchases and buy only what you need, rather than what you want.

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