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Choosing the best way to donate your clothes

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  1. Introduction
    Donating your unwanted goods (clothes etc) :   How to choose between :
    1.  Taking them to a charity shop, or
    2.  Taking them to a recycling/re-use centre, or
    3.  Using a house-to-house collection
  2. Taking your unwanted goods direct to a charity shop (the best option)
  3. Taking your unwanted goods to a recycling/re-use centre
  4. Using house-to-house collections
    • The three types of collection :
      1. Charity shop collections :
        Goods collected house-to-house by charities and taken to a charity shop
      2. Royalty collections :
        Goods collected house-to-house by charities/businesses and sold commercially, with a royalty payment per tonne given to charity
      3. Commercial collections :
        Goods collected house-to-house by businesses and sold commercially, with nothing given to charity
    • Theft and house-to-house collections
    • Regulating collections - licences, enforcement, prosecution etc

Recycling symbol

See also these pages :

Introduction

When you dispose of unwanted goods for re-use, you have a choice of three methods :

  1. take them direct to a charity shop, or
  2. take them to a recycling/re-use centre, or
  3. use house-to-house collections.

We describe these three methods below, including the pros and cons.

We've arranged the categories below so that (in general) :

So, the higher a category is in the page below, the 'better' it is.

1. Taking your unwanted goods direct to a charity shop (the best option)

Oxfam charity shop (image courtesy of Oxfam)
Oxfam charity shop

Most second-hand goods sold in charity shops are taken direct to the shop by the public. This method is usually preferable to using house-to-house collections :

However some people can't easily get to charity shops to donate their unwanted goods - for example the elderly, disabled, those without a car, or people who are out at work all day.

In these situations, you can use recycling centres or house-to-house charity collections - see details in the sections below.

2. Taking your unwanted goods to a recycling/re-use centre 

Recycling containers (East Lothian, Scotland) courtesy of SCRAN
Recycling containers:
East Lothian, Scotland

There are recycling/re-use centres at many public locations such as supermarket car parks, public car parks and council depots.

Recycling: These centres offer facilities to recycle glass, cans, paper, aluminium foil etc. These waste materials are then taken away and processed (melted down, pulped etc as appropriate).  The resulting products are used to manufacture new items.

Clothes recycling containers at Rushmere shopping centre, Craigavon, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland (wikimedia.org)
Clothes recycling containers at Rushmere shopping centre,
Craigavon, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland (wikimedia.org)
HOVER to enlarge image

Re-use: An increasing number of recycling centres now include containers for taking items for re-use, including :

Remember, 're-use' means the items are used again in their existing form, whereas 'recycling' means they are processed back into materials and then re-manufactured.  So re-use is much better for the environment than recycling.

Taking your goods to a recycling/re-use centre still means you have to travel (to the recycling centre), just like taking them direct to a charity shop.

Advantages of this method include :

Disadvantages of this method include :

Q. What happens to the goods put in containers operated by charities?
A. There are three main destinations :

Recycling symbol

See the Re-use and recycling page for more on these issues, especially the overwhelming advantages of re-use compared with recycling.

Also see the page on Clothing banks (clothing containers).

3. Using house-to-house collections

There are three common types of house-to-house collections :

  1. Charity shop collections
  2. Royalty collections
  3. Commercial collections

Each of these types is described below.

A. Charity shop collections:
Goods collected house-to-house by charities and taken to charity shops

With some house-to-house charity bag collections (like British Heart Foundation's) the goods go to charity shops for sale there.  In our opinion, this is overwhelmingly the best type of house-to-house collection - in terms of maximising the proceeds which go to a good cause.  However, only a small percentage of house-to-house collections involve the goods going to charity shops.  See the Statistics page for an estimate of this.

B. Royalty collections:
Goods collected house-to-house by charities/businesses and sold commercially, with a royalty per tonne given to charity

A lot of "charity" bag collections are done by commercial companies, which sell on the goods for a profit.  The companies undertake to donate a specified sum of money per tonne of collected goods to the charity (typically £40 to £120 per tonne).  We refer to these as royalty collections.

£50 per tonne may sound like a lot of money, but it's not.  This type of collection is poor value for the charity (compared to taking your unwanted goods to a charity shop yourself) as the following example shows :

Example - xStatistics:A winter dress weighs around 1000 gram (=1 kilogram =2.2 pounds).  This is only one 1,000th of a metric tonne.

  • Lady in red dress - modela6 So, if you give the dress to a 'royalty' collection (house-to-house), it will raise only about 5 pence for the charity (in other words £50 per tonne, divided by 1,000).
  • By contrast, if you take the same dress yourself to a charity shop, it will be sold for around £10.
    If you then subtract about 75% for the shop's overheads, this means around £2.50 net income (=proceeds, =profit) for the charity.
    That's around 50 times more income for the charity than the 5 pence raised on the basis of £50 or so per tonne.

Would you prefer your unwanted dress to raise 5 pence or £2.50 for charity ?

Royalty collections (if genuine) do raise money for charity - so they're better than purely commercial collections (described below) or binning the items.

However, we feel that the options higher up this page are better - because the same donated goods will usually raise much more money for charities.

See the ABC1 charity collections page for details of a royalty collection which was poor value for the charity.

C. Commercial collections:
Goods collected house-to-house by businesses and sold commercially, with nothing given to charity

These collections are completely legal and don't need a licence from government, so long as they make it clear that they are a business and don't suggest that a charity/good cause will benefit.

Commercial collections do ensure the goods are re-used or recycled, but they don't help charities.

So we'd recommend avoiding these collections - instead choose one of the categories higher up this page.

Theft and house-to-house collections

Van with stolen charity clothing bags - seized: Cardiff, South Wales (photo courtesy of BBC)
Van with stolen charity clothing bags
seized: Cardiff, Wales
(photo courtesy of BBC)

See the page on Theft of collection bags for more details.

All house-to-house clothing collections are vulnerable to certain hazards, especially theft.  Fortunately this only affects a minority of bags - but it's still a serious problem.

The problem - On the day of a collection, the bags of donated goods are on (or near) the road/pavement for several hours, unattended, awaiting collection.  A worrying proportion of these are stolen by thieves, before the genuine collectors arrive.

We've heard of thieves, driving around in vans on the collection day, pretending to be the official collectors and stealing scores of bags of clothes - then selling them through small ads, car boot sales or Ebay.

One collector which experiences thefts is Clothes Aid.  They've made commendable efforts to alert people to the problem and to reduce the thefts.

The solution - If possible, don't use house-to-house collections. 
Instead, take your goods to a charity shop.  Then there is no risk of theft.

Regulating collections - licences, enforcement etc

See the Definitions page for the meaning of the word "charitable".

Bogus and unlicensed charitable collections

Kosta clothes collection leaflet (flyer)

Beware of commercial collections which pretend to be charitable.  If they haven't got a licence they're illegal :

See two examples of prompt action by council licensing departments :

Also see the List of prosecutions page.

See elsewhere on the CharityBags website for more examples of bogus collections.