What becomes of the clothes dropped off in donation bins?

And, do you feel bad when throwing away perfectly good clothing?

At least around here, there are numerous large bins where people can donate clothing. They are the size of small dumpsters, and there is a door that can be opened so that bags of clothing can be dropped in, and then closed (presumably to protect the clothing from the elements).

How much of this clothing actually makes it to someone in need? It doesn’t seem to me that there are enough people in need of used clothing in the US. Is some of it shipped overseas to countries with more severe poverty issues?

Also, oftentimes the bins are overfilled and there are bags left outside the container. It’s kind of obvious that no one has come by to pick up the clothing in a while. For those who are genuinely trying to help people in need, why would they drop off their used clothing outside of a bin that is clearly not being emptied? Is it just to get the feeling that they did their part?

Finally, are some of these donation operations just scams? They could be used to identify any items of value for resale, with the leftovers just discarded.

I remember dropping off clothes in one of those bins, but it happened to be right outside the center in which the clothes are actually stored and, I assume eventually distributed. As I drove away, one of the shipping bays happened to be open and, as I passed, I could see what seemed like acres of clothes in piles for as far as the eye can see. So, there are either a relatively small number of people actually in need of clothing, or the distribution process stinks.

I actually didn’t answer the 2nd part of my question. What to do with clothing I no longer want is always a tough call for me. My parents drove home the point that clothing should never be thrown away, unless it’s damaged. They grew up very poor, so they hate “wasting” anything. For a while, I actually felt guilty if I threw a perfectly good piece of clothing that I either outgrew, or simply didn’t want any more. But now when I see the overflowing bins everywhere, I feel like it’s all a waste, so I just started throwing the clothes out.

Locally, the Salvation Army has bins outside their store, whare they sell used clothing. So it’s clear that they go through the donations and use some of them.

A good place to take clothing is a homeless shelter or a transition shelter. They’re usually very happy to get them, as long as they’re not just rags.

I think a good chunk of donated clothing ends up overseas. I saw people wearing tees in Africa that sure looked like something an American would have worn.

I wear clothes until they aren’t fit to be worn. Every so often I’ll have a dirty job that needs my attention and I wear my absolute worst clothes so they can be disposable.

My gf on the other hand will buy an expensive dress for a work function and will never wear it again, so she takes it to some local place for donation.

This may be tangentially relevant:

On the average, in the US :
1> 62% of textiles (new and used clothing) go to landfills
2> 15% is recycled
3> 19% is incinerated (burnt)
4> 4% is exported overseas

Yeah, I used to donate used clothing but then I found out most of it was winding up in the garbage after all.

Now I repurpose it into things like tote bags and rag rugs so I know they’re being recycled into something useful. But not everyone can or wants to do that.

I was at a college football national championship game in the 90s, and my team lost. They were selling the shirt for my team “winning” at a significant discount. Sadly, I didn’t think clearly enough to buy one.

Please note that EPA uses weasel words. It is not clear how much of clothing going to the landfills are new clothes sent there by clothing stores.

All Clothing stores put out new clothes every month - and it is strongly suspected that the month old clothing make it to the landfills.

Here is a sobering number : “The fashion industry is responsible for 10 % of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.”

From what I understand, it can be a sort of a tiered affair based on maximizing the utility. I know that’s how the local school district’s clothes closet works- they keep the good stuff for their students who need clothing, they donate the less teenage-wearable, but serviceable stuff to shelters, etc… and the ratty stuff is just sold for rags by weight.

What happens depends in part on which donation bins the clothing is dropped into. I only donate clothes to one particular organization, because I know they run thrift shops and I know they give people in need vouchers to be used at the gift shops and I know that they use the thrift shop revenue for charitable purposes. But there are other bins which tell you right on the bin that the clothing is going to a for-profit company and that the charity named on the bin gets a flat yearly “donation” from that company unrelated to the amount of clothing donated and there’s at least one donation pick-up service in my area that seems to work the same way. I won’t “donate” to those places no matter how easy it is.

The Salvation Army, Goodwill, and others don’t actually want your clothes to give to poor people, they want to sell your clothes to raise money to support their charity work. The lack of naked people running around the country does not mean your clothing donation will be unappreciated.

Flooring underpadding used to contain visible bits of shredded clothing material. The bits of denim from jeans was really obvious.

It doesn’t seem to look like that anymore at the home renovation stores, so I wonder if something has changed.

It’s my part of eastern Kentucky that had the devastating floods a little while back, so I’ve had the chance to see disaster relief efforts up close.

The floods happened on Thursday, and by Saturday every place that was accepting donations was begging people not to bring any more clothes. They still needed everything else, but they had literal tons of clothes and nowhere near the volunteer manpower to go through them and do anything with them.

I suspect that for the usual clothing donation sites it’s a more long-term version of the same thing. Someone glances through a pile, keeps the obvious good stuff, and chucks the rest.

I recall an NPR story many years ago about border businesses in El Paso and Juarez. Used clothing was laundered, sorted by quality, bailed up in giant cubes the way they do for recycled cardboard, and auctioned for pennies on the pound to people with second-hand businesses in Mexico. The people who bought the bales would salvage about 10% for their shops and the remainder would go at a further discount to furniture makers who would sell the even lesser quality fabric to home insulators at a further discount. There were other steps in the chain I don’t recall. It was quite impressive how it was all eventually recycled in some way.

The problem now is probably transportion. It’s not worth the expense of trucking a huge bale of fabric to the border to just get a fraction of your transportation cost back at auction.

I read a really good in-depth article about the life cycle of clothing, and clothing donation, and I can’t find it for the life of me. I’ve shared it on the SDMB a couple times and I may have gotten the link from here but I still can’t find it.

You can search google for “what happens to donated clothes?” and find a lot of interesting info, just in much shorter articles.

If you look at @am77494 's graph it shows we’re throwing away a ton of clothing. But it’s not Goodwill or Planet Aid that’s throwing away clothing, it’s consumers. There’s money to be made in reselling clothing or selling it as textiles. Sometimes the money goes to a for-profit company (ok much of the money goes to for-profit companies) and sometimes it goes to a non-profit.

People are asking on local Facebook groups every week where they can donate clothes to places that will immediately put these clothes on the backs of poor naked people in our area. They don’t want their discarded clothing being sold. As someone who has successfully sold a lot of clothes online, it’s a weird way of thinking. Clothing takes up a lot of space, especially if you want to present it in a way that prospective recipients can view, feel, inspect and choose the items that they need and want to wear. Clothing has seasons, too. And sizes. And occasions. I mean it’s great if you want to donate your size 2 summer wardrobe because you grew a little over the last couple years, but right now it’s winter and everyone at the women’s shelter is a size 8 or above and someone could sell your clothes to keep the lights on a little longer instead.

Here’s a good article about the lifecycle of a physical donation to Goodwill, focused on one store in the PNW.

Yes, Goodwill will take your donations and sell them at a profit, but the profit does go back to their charity (how well it’s distributed is something people like to argue about, but even when you look at it through a microscope it’s not nearly as bad as people perceive it to be). Goodwill also takes your un-sellable stuff and gets it into the hands of recyclers who will figure out a way to make a profit on the raw materials. And when all those avenues are exhausted, they take some of the profit from your good sell-able stuff and pay the fees to put it in a landfill.

So you can either toss your clothing directly into the landfill (well not directly - put it in your home trash can first), or find that gem of a clothing drive that has actual people in actual need of your actual clothing, or you can dispose of it via a store or donation bin that will either turn it into profit, charity, textile or trash but at least it had a fighting chance to stay out of the landfill.

If you can find the right charity that can get your clothes directly to people in need (and your clothes are worth re-wearing) then do that. But if you have stuff that is more niche or is in bad shape, you’re better off not burdening a small charity with them and diverting them through Goodwill so they can be re-sold or turned in to textiles. Goodwill has the better resources for that. Whatever you do, don’t just toss them. I mean if you’re going to throw it out anyway, what does it matter if someone makes a little profit off them?

I know there is already an issue with items separated for recycling going to a landfill anyway, but why aren’t fabrics on the list of things we can put in our recycling bins?

Jeez, where do you live?