This Is What Really Happens To Your Clothes After They're Thrown Away

Photo: Courtesy of Aeon.
Sure, it’s easy to assume that spring cleaning starts with studying up on the KonMari method and ends with dropping your discarded clothing off at the closest donation box. But, not so fast, because there's another, lesser-known step in the recycling process: Where do your cast-offs go after you toss them? This is something many people rarely consider, but a new documentary offers a rare, sobering glimpse into the next phase of the clothing chain.

In the short movie Unravel, filmmaker Meghna Gupta follows the path of hundreds of pounds of discarded clothing all the way to India. Their destination is Panipat, North India, where they'll be ripped apart by hand, stripped down, chopped up, and eventually turned into thread by local female workers. The chopped-up clothing is later spun back into thread for blankets to be shipped back to the Western world. 

Not surprisingly, many of the workers don't understand why so many Westerners are getting rid of perfectly good clothing. The women offer up plenty of explanations, such as, "Everyone here says that the clothes come over because there’s a water shortage in the West...Maybe the water is too expensive to wash them." Another reason: “Who knows, maybe they just don’t like washing their clothes?” However, the final comment, made by a woman standing in the middle of piles of clothes bigger than her, rings truest. "They wear their clothes a couple of times, then throw them away," she says.

It only takes a second for us to forget about our old clothing after we throw them away (out of sight, out of mind?), but this 15-minute clip brings a much-needed look into the receiving end of the process. Here's hoping this documentary makes us all reconsider how we shop — on Earth Day, and the other 364 days of the year. Watch Unravel  here
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