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'No One Wants Your Used Clothes Anymore' (bloomberg.com) 272

An anonymous reader shares a report: For decades, the donation bin has offered consumers in rich countries a guilt-free way to unload their old clothing. In a virtuous and profitable cycle, a global network of traders would collect these garments, grade them, and transport them around the world to be recycled, worn again, or turned into rags and stuffing. Now that cycle is breaking down. Fashion trends are accelerating, new clothes are becoming as cheap as used ones, and poor countries are turning their backs on the secondhand trade. Without significant changes in the way that clothes are made and marketed, this could add up to an environmental disaster in the making. [...] The tide of secondhand clothes keeps growing even as the markets to reuse them are disappearing. From an environmental standpoint, that's a big problem. Already, the textile industry accounts for more greenhouse-gas emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined; as recycling markets break down, its contribution could soar. The good news is that nobody has a bigger incentive to address this problem than the industry itself.

'No One Wants Your Used Clothes Anymore'

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  • Naked time! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @11:17AM (#55946211)

    So you're saying we could cut out a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions by just going naked all the time?

    • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @11:29AM (#55946325) Homepage Journal

      So you're saying we could cut out a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions by just going naked all the time?

      Our friends north of the 60th might have a problem with that...

    • Re:Naked time! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @11:58AM (#55946555)

      No, just stop buying new stuff. Stop throwing away your perfectly good clothing.
      Everybody has too much stuff. Don't buy more. Just stop.
      (I realize that on this site, many people here are not "fashion conscious" so this may not apply. However, in the real world lots of people just keep buying new stuff and throwing away perfectly good clothing.)

      • Re:Naked time! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Gilgaron ( 575091 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @12:24PM (#55946799)
        Women's clothing in particular seems to be ephemeral... for my wife, even 'high quality' brands seem to last less time than similar quality men's clothing. Even something like a pair of jeans: whereas the men's jeans are made with real denim, the women's are blended with a lot of other materials and wear out faster.
        • by zenbi ( 3530707 )
          Some "new" clothing items even come with holes pre-worn into the knees and colors already faded, etc. And they'll pay extra for this...
          • Heh! I remember someone with new pants with faded colors and wholes, and I was thinking "what's the big deal? Half of my old pants look like that!"

        • Re: Naked time! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by dskoll ( 99328 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @12:50PM (#55947113) Homepage

          It's true. Women's clothing is (by and large) flimsy, expensive and designed more for display than practicality compared to men's clothing. I'd be filled with happiness to find a dress with actual practical pockets! Amazing! What an idea!

          • Well I can't help much with dresses. But men's clothing is also *sized* in an intelligent way. Jeans have two numbers, waist and inseam. These are measured in inches so there's no "vanity sizing." Of course there really is no such thing as a pair of "men's" jeans. Women are welcome to buy and wear them. I've never seen a store refuse a sale to women just because they came from the men's department.
        • The trend in women's jeans is that they are "slimming." That is to say that you wear them just bit to small and squish your body in a way that you can't move. You look temporarily slimmer. Of course then you can't actually do anything and burn less calories so you have to buy "slimming" jeans a size larger. Rinse and repeat.
    • Between driverless cars delivering me pizza, and the internet, and meeting avatars, I really don't need to dress and leave the house.

  • by Zorro ( 15797 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @11:18AM (#55946217)

    North Korea has made a credible threat to drop Disco on the USA.

  • Maybe Monsanto or somebody else can simply engineer a bacteria that eats old clothes . . . ?

    Now, it might be tricky deciding what exactly is old, but the results are guaranteed to be a hilariously hit at parties.

    • I don't thing the biodegradability of the clothing is the biggest issue, but the process of making new clothing from scratch is cheaper then recycling, however it is more of an environmental impact.

  • Fashion or need? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by OffTheLip ( 636691 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @11:20AM (#55946243)
    I can't believe there are not plenty of poor areas of the world that are more concerned with meeting human needs rather than catering to fashion taste.
    • by The-Ixian ( 168184 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @11:22AM (#55946265)

      Perhaps clothing from the US is simply too large to be useful as anything other than tents...

      • I've seen stories in the past about the used clothing industry in parts of Africa where the clothing is substantially altered for local use. Basically a container comes in and people bid for the order in which they'll be able to grab what they want from it. Those items are then re-sewn into effectively new garments - a t-shirt may be taken in on both sides, with the extra fabric combined with other fabric to make another shirt or something else.
    • Let's put it that way: You wouldn't believe the amount of BMWs and iPhones you will find in some of the poorer areas of my home town...

    • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @12:05PM (#55946623)

      Even people in Trump's *hole countries people have plenty of clothes. That's not the problem.
      The problem is that we dump our trash on their market and destroy any local market for clothing. This prevents them from "lifting themselves up by their bootstraps" (or similar neoliberal articles of faith). Poor countries are finally saying stop sending us your trash. We need to develop our own economies.

      • Maybe it would be better for those countries to take the free clothes, and use the savings to develop their economies by focusing on other stuff that we're not sending them. That way they would end up with both the clothes and the other stuff.

    • The materials costs of new clothes is tiny. The costs are either labour or capital costs of machinery. In the very poor places that are the recipients of second-hand clothes in large quantities, the cost of labour is very, very low. Shipping them fabric costs less than shipping them second-hand clothes (because it can be transported more densely in rolls) and the cost of making the fabric into clothes at the end is negligible, as is the cost of mass producing fabric. When your entire supply chain for bo
    • I can't believe there are not plenty of poor areas of the world that are more concerned with meeting human needs rather than catering to fashion taste.

      It's not about fashion, it's about the fact that no one wants your second hand $10 shirt when they can buy the same shirt new back home for $1. The affordability gap for cloths has plummeted both in the first world and the third world.

  • Baloney. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @11:26AM (#55946299)

    The amount of Thrift stores around me has drastically increased in the past decade. My wife lived in Rome for years, and there's daily street fairs where there's many many used clothes being traded.

    The article references used FIBERS, totally different from clothes. I see no evidence that thrift, or open air market prices are anywhere near the prices of new clothes. Used fibers turned into new clothes/goods are a different matter. I suspect the fibers will be used for something even cheaper. Insulation?

    • Re:Baloney. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <mashiki@gmail . c om> on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @12:01PM (#55946581) Homepage

      Yeah, in Canada it's so cut-throat for used clothing that there's been incidences of "box poaching" by companies. In most cities there's a booming business in thrift stores, and before someone brings up the "but the Goodwill in Toronto..." the people who were running it literally ran it into the ground, took money, pilfered the poor, and the board paid themselves extravagant amounts of money while the workers worked either for minimum wage, or donated their time. Then tried to scrub all the financial information that they could to cover up the fact that they had pilfered money.

      I suspect the fibers will be used for something even cheaper. Insulation?

      Partially, it's mixed in with newspaper fiber already for blown insulation because some fire retardant chemicals stick to it easier. The fibers can also be added to a lot of the new laminate framing/beams to add extra strength or be reduced and used as a binder when the laminate is compressed. There's also the possibility that it could be rendered down and reprocessed into partial new-fill, or mixed in with fertilizer. Something that's common with cotton already.

  • new clothes are becoming as cheap as used ones

    Here in the U.S. "fashion retail" will sell a shirt for ~$50, while the very same shirt will show up a few months later at a thrift shop for ~$4. Some of the "upmarket" clothiers sell shirts (marginally nicer than the retail variety) for $100+ per shirt. At the local mall, I don't think you can even buy a T-shirt for less than $20 anymore. And they wonder why the place is so empty...

    • If you haven't seen a new shirt for less than $10, you haven't looked very hard. It may be not be same $50 shirt you're talking about, but that isn't the point. The point is people with little money can now afford to buy new clothes for very little money, instead of having to take someone's used clothes because that's all they could afford.
    • by mspohr ( 589790 )

      Shop at Old Navy, H&M, Uniqlo, etc. You can buy new stuff really cheap there.

      • by zenbi ( 3530707 )

        These days, you can leave out the brick and mortar stores as well, often with higher quality results. (I've seen cheap shirts in stores that are as thin as pantyhose)

        Try out http://www.blankshirts.com/ [blankshirts.com] for example.

  • Chinese manufacturing has become so efficient that a new polar fleece blanket costs a mere $2.50 retail -- compared to $2.00 for a recycled blanket.

    So wouldn't making the recyclers more efficient reduce their costs as well? I suppose they're missing

    cash-flush Chinese manufacturers.

    Or would efficiency overcome the raw material source?

    • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @12:54PM (#55947145) Homepage

      So wouldn't making the recyclers more efficient reduce their costs as well?

      And how do you propose to do that? Recycling means you get a mixed bag of everything people gave you and you never know what they were thinking. As an analogy, around here at Christmas time there's a donation box for gifts for the poor and because of the personal touch it encourages more and bigger contributions than paying donations. They wrap it up nice and pretty like it's ready to go from secret Santa to straight under the Christmas tree, on the card you're supposed to write the target age/sex.

      Do you know what happens to all those presents? They're unwrapped, unpacked, inspected, reviewed for age/sex appropriateness, repacked and re-wrapped. And not just because some people have a bit strange ideas about what's really fit for a Christmas present or useful for a kid. But because there's always some ass hat with mental problems who'll wrap up a broken PlayStation or sex toy or dog poop and a note that says here's a little shit for a little shit. The system only works because they got volunteers willing to perpetuate a fantasy while shielding the recipients from what would actually happen.

      You just can't get away from that individual checking of everything. It's the same thing that's killed much of the repair business, if your toaster is broken go buy a new one. Even if it's just a tiny fix the repair guy has exhausted the budget almost before he can get the lid off while a thousand rolled off the assembly line in China. And if the market doesn't care the manufacturer doesn't care about making manuals, parts and equipment etc. available either. Huge, controlled environments with identical items have economics of scale. Small, uncontrolled environments with mixed items don't.

  • Isn't textile one of the most recyclable materials in existence?

    Even if the old clothes need to be shredded into fibers and re-spun, the recycled material doesn't have to be suitable as dress whites, it can be tent canvas, insulation, upholstery stuffing, etc.

  • What am I supposed to do with all my old leisure suits? Some of those fabrics could survive a direct nuclear strike.
  • Why is this on Slashdot?

  • Fortunately (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rhacman ( 1528815 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @11:36AM (#55946399)
    I just wear my clothes until they break down naturally and are shed in the next molting cycle.
  • When I wear your granddad's clothes I look incredible. Now what do I do?
  • There are also economists who are complaining that we are not recycling old clothes as much as we should.

    Who is right?

  • by cmeans ( 81143 ) <cmeans AT intfar DOT com> on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @11:42AM (#55946443) Homepage Journal

    I volunteer at a local food pantry that also makes donated clothes available to its clients. I generally only volunteer once a week, but I see a lot of people lining up to get clothing...whether it's for themselves or someone else.

    Maybe other countries don't need/want our used clothing as much, but there's still a demand/need in the USA at least.

    • but there's still a demand/need in the USA at least.

      Define demand. If the demand isn't comparable to the new supply then it becomes a large waste issue regardless.

  • Fashion trends are accelerating, new clothes are becoming as cheap as used ones, and poor countries are turning their backs on the secondhand trade.

    This is fantastic news. If a country is in a position to turn up their collective noses at perfectly serviceable used clothing because it's not new/trendy enough, I think we can take that as an official declaration that they're in fine shape to fend for themselves all the way around.

    • by Wulf2k ( 4703573 )

      "If they're hungry, why aren't they eating all of these old clothes?"

      • Cute, but you're missing my point. We're talking about people who are supposedly turning down old clothes because they're not fashionable enough. If that's really true, they're operating on a much higher Maslowian tier than people genuinely threatened with starvation.

        • by Wulf2k ( 4703573 )

          But is it really because they're not fashionable enough, or is that just the spin put on it?

          Maybe it's just not cost-effective to ship our used clothes over there.

          Maybe they've finally got some manufacturing of their own going on.

          Maybe our crappy secondhand clothes are manufactured so poorly that they disintegrate too quickly if exposed to the elements.

          Maybe they started getting "YOLO" shirts and decided they'd rather just go naked.

      • Marie Antoinette - is that you?
  • Donated clothes destroyed the domestic textiles industry in some countries and made people dependent on a constant supply of clothes from the West which were actually made in Southeast Asia
  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @11:54AM (#55946525) Journal

    When I read the original article, I get the idea that a lot of it is based on this one disaster relief blanket maker's tale of woe, discovering that they were booted out as the preferred provider of their recycled blankets made from worn out clothing material. I can't help but wonder if there's more to their story than what they reveal here, since they stated the Chinese product being purchased instead is still 50 cents per blanket more expensive than what they were selling. Don't these things generally get contracted out to the lowest bidder?

    Maybe their recycled blankets weren't as durable as the new Chinese ones? Or maybe they weren't as warm or comfortable?

    Additionally, I agree with another Slashdot poster who found it rather hard to believe that all over the entire world, we've actually reached a point where concerns about fashion trump any interest or need for cheap, used clothing? Here in America, I find that at least in my circle of friends (including the people I communicate with via social media), few of us are fashion conscious at all. I have a couple of female friends who are, but more of them actually tell me they just want clothing that lasts. They hate spending large amounts of time picking out clothes that fit well and look good on them, only to have their favorite selections wear out and need replacing again after a year or two. The guys I know pretty much all just have a need for "business casual" clothing plus comfortable, casual wear for weekends and days off work. It's all about buying what's reasonably priced while fitting the category they're seeking. "Fast fashion" has no role to play there.

    • I once had a GF in Paris. She was the lead teacher of the most famous fashion/stylist/pattern school in France. (Now she is head director of a school in Berlin, Germany) She had a coworker and friend (I think Patrick is his name, but I'm not sure) He is the second (now in Paris the first) teacher for design and patterns and creativity.

      Anyway, once Patrick asked me "do you care about fashion?" (Or "are you interested in fashion") I answered something like "It interests me as a kind of cinema", but "caring, I

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @11:56AM (#55946541)
    Because Everytime at the local thrift stores was too ratty to wear. Part of that is cloths are made more cheaply now (thanks fast fashion) and part of that is the thrift stores eBay all the really nice stuff. I suspect if your poor that's got to suck. When I was a broke ass college kid I could get something ok for a job interview for $20 bucks. Nowadays that stuff is on eBay for $100 or more...
    • Yes there is ebay, but the sellers still have to pay the fees and have to deal with the hassle of shipping. Maybe that is why I still find plenty of very nice dress shirts and slacks from the thrift stores that are in proximity to wealthier neighborhoods. I'd always much rather have something that was expensive once but isn't new, rather than something that is new but is cheap.
  • Well, since the textile industry is a huge greenhouse-gas emitter already, and since they're just going to raise those emissions to meet the apparent increase in demand for new textiles, it seems they should just get taxed, right? I mean, slapping on a new textile tax will help decrease demand by denizens of the developing world by raising prices for new textiles out of their reach, thereby increasing demand for second-hand textiles again. Tax revenues could also be used to develop cleaner energy sources an

  • In the book Brave New World the hypnotically-implanted mottos included "ending is better than mending" and "the more stitches, the less riches."
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @12:25PM (#55946813)

    The tide of secondhand clothes keeps growing even as the markets to reuse them are disappearing. From an environmental standpoint, that's a big problem.

    Most of the clothes I buy are 100% cotton. Can't you just shred cotton, wool, linen, silk, rayon, etc. clothes and scatter the bits into the wind? They're natural fibers. That's what would've happened to the material anyway if they hadn't been turned into a textile. These things have been growing and dying for millions of years, and we're not buried up to our ears in them. So I assume bacteria are able to decompose them and re-enter the natural food cycles.

  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @12:26PM (#55946823)

    The good news is that nobody has a bigger incentive to address this problem than the industry itself.

    So what is this big incentive for the industry? They do not care that second hand are thrown away instead of used again. They even would welcome it. "Pleasy buy my stuff and throw it away without wearing it." "Please use it as a fule source." All things they would be totally ok with, as long as you give them monies.

  • You could also wear them longer. It astounds me that people throw out perfectly good stuff. But I don't mind since I pick it up. I buy used cloths. A lot of people I know buy used cloths. The cost is about $1 typically, that's for a jacket, a shirt, pants, shoes, etc. Many people shop at thrift stores. These cloths are perfectly good. The new market isn't going to drop that low so there is going to be a market. So someone does want your used cloths. BTW, I'm in a third world country: Vermont (USA). :)

  • Could've fooled me. Street near me has about six charity shops. People drop in clothes all the time, they sell them, and the money goes to various causes. So uh, this article is bollocks.
  • He makes some great points: https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • by dskoll ( 99328 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @12:42PM (#55947003) Homepage

    The problem is that cheap new clothes are generally really poor quality. I have bought used clothes that were high-quality and last much longer than new ones would, for about the same price. The problem is there's a lot of garbage clothing to sift through to find the good stuff, but I enjoy that sort of treasure hunt.

    Of course, the fashion industry doesn't want people to keep clothes for a long time. I'd say that's the real culprit.

  • from a 2013 book, https://www.amazon.com/Overdre... [amazon.com]

    “Overdressed does for T-shirts and leggings what Fast Food Nation did for burgers and fries.” —Katha Pollitt

    Author got idea when returning from one of those stores like Ross with bundle of "good deals" then realizing she will never wear these and has a closet stuffed with cheap clothes she will never wear. She also found (and this was years ago) almost all donated clothing will be sent to the landfill because it is cheaper to buy new s

  • Not long ago I discovered that a few marine transport ships are enough to eclipse all of the emissions from vehicles in North America. Now you tell me that the textiles industry creates significantly more than that. North American and European cars are already far cleaner than those in the rest of the word, mostly thanks to electronic fuel injection and other forms of increased efficiency which we are all happy to have anyway. Then there are termite farts which to my knowledge far eclipse all of those thing

  • I started to make my own clothing in 1995. I still have the very first shirt that I have made and it is in far better condition after 23 years than new clothing that I see others wear.

    I have not bought new clothing since I started sewing in 1995.

    Not only does it last longer, it is also a pride of creation.

    If you want to see pictures of my home made clothing, you can go to www.allyn.com

  • The biggest "thrift store" near me has some really expensive crap. They try to sell 10-year-old couches in great visual condition but with hideous colors for $250 with a brand new furniture store right across the street. I think DVDs are a few dollars a pop. Furniture and electronics are both insanely priced. Prices are non-negotiable. It amazes me that anyone bothers with the place. The only thing appropriately priced is VHS tapes. It doesn't matter how many used clothes you donate if they end up being pri
  • The article title is "No One Wants Your Used Clothes Anymore" however, the article provides no evidence to back-up that headline. Instead, it cites a single company that recycled fabric into blankets for disaster relief. So a more accurate headline would be "This One Company Doesn't Want Your Used Clothes Anymore." Recycling has never been about making things cheaper, it is about minimizing our environmental footprint. As many posters have commented, thrift stores are booming and donation boxes are popp

  • by RhettLivingston ( 544140 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2018 @04:37PM (#55949113) Journal

    Average clothes are definitely far less durable today than 20 years ago. They appear to cost less, but I believe cost more over the long term. My jeans used to last about 150 wear / wash cycles and now seem to be good for only half that. Other clothes are far less durable than that.

    It seems as though we've entered into an age where having the latest clothes is more important than how much they cost. This turns durability into something the average consumer has no desire to pay extra for. Why pay more to facilitate donating?

    The ultimate evolution of this would be to have a brand new outfit every time you dress. There could be a market there for a home grown clothing industry.

    Manufacturers based in the US can't compete in the clothing industry as it exists. So, perhaps they should seek instead to disrupt the industry.

    We should seek to develop a device similar in size to a washer-dryer combination that will break down old clothes and create new ones. It would likely need to have supplies in canisters that are replaced. There would also likely be components that can't be recycled in the machine and must be removed to a depot for recycling. So, a service would cart away collection canisters and install new supply canisters periodically.

    The business would shift from manufacturing clothes overseas to manufacturing sophisticated machines and recycling supplies locally. Also, clothing design would be a completely separate largely community-based, open source activity that these suppliers would no longer have to concern themselves with.

    3D printing technology which has already shown an ability to create crude clothes would be a promising starting point for this. Ultimately I think a tech that could break material down into fibers, reform fibers into threads, and weave new clothes, perhaps from many micro threads instead of long ones, would produce better feeling, seamless clothes than a print from drops approach.

    Getting there involves shifting from designing machines that automate human activities (which is what the current clothing industry does) to designing a whole process including the end product that is optimized for real-time on-site production of single-use outfits with full recycling.

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