With the rise of social media and the availability of cheap clothing produced overseas, it has never been more tempting to buy a brand new outfit for every night out.
This has led to the fashion industry now manufacturing 400% more items than it was just 20 years ago. The reality is, most of these items are cheap, poor-quality, disposable items of clothing.
Right now in UK, more than two tonnes of clothing are bought each minute and according to clothes waste charity TRIAD (2019) and the average garment is worn just ten times before it is thrown away.
So where do all these clothes end up?
Sadly, a great deal of these items end up in landfill. Though the majority are sent to be recycled, not much of it is. The problem comes down to what our clothes are made from.
Nowadays, clothes are made up of a combination of fibres, fixtures and other accessories. These are often made-up of problematic blends of yarns, plastics, filaments and metals. This makes recycling a slow, labour-intensive process that requires a skilled workforce and an enormous amount of space.
Second-hand garments are often sent to local charity shops. But many complain of being swamped with donations, many of which are poor-quality fast fashion items that are heavily degraded even after just a few wares. Sorting through these becomes a near-impossible task and garments often end up being passed around between charity shops, further degrading and becoming less and less desirable over time.
The final destination
So where next? Well these remaining unsold garments are then sent, in bulk, for resale abroad in the form of 'charitable donations'.
Countries in central and Sub-Saharan Africa is often the recipient of these donations. An astonishing 63.4 million kg of old clothes from the UK were sent to be sold in Ghana alone last year. Amazingly, that figure has doubled in a decade.
With instability and corruption so prevalent in many of these countries, often these garments are dumped illegally or left floating in the sea rather than finding a new home. Factor in the carbon footprint of sending these clothes half-way around the world, and it's clear that we are heading for trouble.
Not only is this is becoming an environmental catastrophe, but for many African nations, it is becoming an economic one as well. Second-hand clothing is one factor in the near-collapse of the garment industry in sub-Saharan Africa. In the past, many of these nations were home to vibrant textile industries but with second-hand western garments flooding the market, these are facing irrespirable damage.
So what can I do to help?
The first thing we can all do is to buy fewer items first-hand. By supporting your local charity shop you help to slow the demand for cheap, disposable clothing. Not only this, but you can help with the oversupply of donations whilst generating revenue for good causes.
If an item of clothing has a small tear, a missing button or just needs a little TLC, there's usually a way to save it. There are loads of great resources online to help you mend your clothes at home. Sites like Love Your Clothes offer free video tutorials on how to breathe life into your old garms.
You can try find your clothes a new home online should you want but if you do feel like recycling your clothes is the only option, just make sure that items are clean and fabrics are separated as best you can.
And what about Paperclip?
Not only does Paperclip provide a secure online marketplace to sell your second-hand clothes, but we have decided to launch our own sustainability initiative.
We have decided to partner with a number of charities to help find new homes for the unsold donations. Our plan helps these charities to extend the reach of their retail stores exponentially. Quite often items sit unsold in these shops for years before they are moved on or are sent to be destroyed or recycled. These partnerships will help showcase these items to thousands of buyers online, giving these clothes a much greater chance of finding their new home.
We will be releasing more information on this initiative, and announcing our first partnership over next few weeks, so keep tuned to our social channels.