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What Actually Happens When You Donate Clothes to a Thrift Store?

What Actually Happens When You Donate Clothes to a Thrift Store? - FRANC

Thrifting is a pretty hot trend these days. Wearing someone else’s clothes gets you a high-five for an original look and another high-five for scoring a sweet find. But even if you’re not an avid thrifter, you’ve most likely dropped off donations at a local thrift store, keeping your fingers crossed that those items will be useful to someone else. It’s easy to not give it a second thought. But we were a little curious about what happens . . .

After Drop-Off.

So you’ve dropped off a bag of unwanted clothing at your local thrift store. What happens next?
The process differs for each store, but most thrift stores follow a similar process.

Once donations are dropped off, they are sorted by volunteers or staff. Any items that can be sold are priced and put on the sales floor (or put into storage until there is room on the floor).

And that leads to the next question: What if a donation doesn’t make the cut?

If clothing arrives wet, dirty, or with mildew, the whole bag of donations is put straight into the garbage. Textiles in the landfill take over 40 years to decompose, releasing methane gas and toxic leachate in the process. Yikes.

However—in Canada—thrift stores WANT your torn, stained, and worn-out clothes. When a donated item isn’t fit for sale, it’s sent to a textile partner program where its life is extended. The system isn’t perfect, but it keeps clothes out of the landfill. If you’ve ever felt guilty about putting a little-too-worn T-shirt into your bag of donations, be free of that guilt, my friend! Send your holey socks, your worn-out tees, your jeans with broken zippers, and your old undies to your local thrift shop. Don’t worry. It’s not gross or offensive. It actually helps keep your carbon footprint down. The average North American disposes of 83 pounds of clothing and textiles a year. That’s too much weight for our beautiful planet to carry. Thankfully, thrift stores are helping bear the load.

In 2016, Mission Thrift Store (a thrift store chain in Ontario) diverted around 26 million pounds of donations from local landfills. Value Village diverts 100 million pounds of clothing and household items from landfills across Canada each year. This saves 1 billion kWh of energy, which is like removing 212,087 cars from roads, saving over 7 thousand mature trees, conserving 167,828.30 litres of water, and reducing a carbon footprint by 280 million pounds of carbon dioxide. (Check out Value Village’s reports here.)

Another question we had was: If an item doesn’t sell, what happens to it?

Some thrift stores reduce the item and keep it on a clearance rack until it’s sold. Others ship the items overseas where it, hopefully, can be used.

Ways to Help

One of the biggest ways we can help is by being responsible donators. Making sure all textile items are clean before they are donated lessens the risk of it landing in the landfill.

And spread the word about stained, worn out holey clothes! These items need to be sent to a thrift store so they are recycled properly. To help out with the sorting process, you can put items that need to be recycled in a separate bag labelled “recycle.” Let’s keep ALL the clothes out of the landfill.

Being an intentional consumer is also the biggest way to help. When buying brand new, invest in quality, natural fibre clothing that is versatile and lasts beyond seasonal trends. Natural fibre fabrics—such as organic cotton, wool, Tencel, or linen—are more eco-friendly. Plus, they feel great and they look great. (Psst! If you’re looking for some quality basics, we’ve got your back! And check out the scoop on our fabrics.)

If any of this is news to you, let us know what you think in the comments below. Or maybe you’re a pro thrifter, tell us where you love to shop and donate!


Written By Jade Paxton for FRANC

1 comment


Both of my grandmas volunteer at a thrift store in their town, and told me about the fabric recycling and that they get paid a small amount by weight for it.

So when I went to drop off clothes at my local thrift store I had some clothes/old sheets in a separate box that wouldn’t be saleable but could be recycled. They didn’t want them as they don’t use a program like that.

So check with your thrift store before dropping off your too-worn items!

(PS I live in BC, Canada)

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