What Happens To Your Donated Clothes? The Answer Might Surprise You

nprslidePhoto: Courtesy of Sarah Elliott for NPR.
If you've ever wondered where your old clothes go after you drop them in a donation bin, the answer is a lot more complex than you might think. If your discarded duds aren’t snatched up by a charity shop like Goodwill, they actually make a much longer journey. It goes something like this: Donated clothes are packed up in bales and sold in bulk around the world, often ending up in used-clothing markets in Sub-Saharan African countries, NPR reports. The numbers are startling: These used clothing exports amount to over a billion pounds every year. (Just imagining a billion pounds of clothes is making our heads spin.) After export, the clothes are cleaned, ironed, and sold in markets around the world.
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The report is part of NPR's Planet Money T-shirt project, where the news site tracked the lifespan of a T-shirt, covering processes like how cotton is made and how clothing is transported around the world. This particular segment takes its inspiration from a man who donated an old lacrosse jersey in Miami, only to find the same shirt a few months later on a man in Sierra Leone. So, yes, it's a pretty safe bet that your old H&M and Forever 21 castoffs are enjoying a second life somewhere in the world — potentially very far away.
Some additional food for thought: NPR produced a line of T-shirts as part of the project, and reporters Gregory Warner and David Kestenbaum are pretty sure some of them will end up taking the far-flung trip they describe in the story. (NPR)
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