What Would Happen to Disposable Fashion?

Clothing store


Never before have we owned so much clothing: Since 2000, our consumption has doubled, from 50 to around 100 billion newly purchased pieces. At the same time, spending on clothing has fallen. The reason is the phenomenon of “fast fashion”, rapidly changing collections. A lot of clothing is bought that is so cheap that it often ends up in the used clothing container after wearing it two or three times – because it no longer pleases or the quality leaves much to be desired. And trousers, T-shirts, or sweaters are also piled up in the closet: One Study by Greenpeace. According to this, every adult in Germany owns an average of 95 items of clothing – not counting underwear and socks. While many choose to dispose of their old clothes, many still Google “local carboot sales near me” and try selling them there.

After a very short time is sorted out

Around 60 new parts are added every year. In total, that’s 5.2 billion textiles. According to Greenpeace, a large part is rarely or not at all worn: an estimated two billion. Fashion has become disposable. After a very short time, it is sorted out again and disposed of in the used clothing container, in the hope of helping those in need. The corona pandemic has exacerbated this trend. Many consumers have used the time of corona restrictions to sort out their cabinets.

Only up to ten percent of used clothing for the needy

According to the consumer advice center of North Rhine-Westphalia, every German citizen gives 16 pieces of clothing per year to the street collection or to the used clothing container – this corresponds to a mountain of clothing of around 1.1 million tons of textiles per year. Some of the textiles immediately end up in the garbage because these clothes are too dirty or broken. The majority goes into the used clothing collection. Of this, in turn, only up to ten percent is passed on to the needy or sold as second-hand goods. About 40 percent of the textiles are exported as merchandise to Eastern European or African countries. Around half of the garments are unusable for further wear and go to recycling companies, where cleaning cloths or insulation materials are made from fibers. A small part of five to ten percent, which cannot be used for this either, serves as a substitute fuel for coal or goes into waste incineration.

Textile recyclers and charitable institutions have the same problem: the quality of the goods has deteriorated significantly in recent years. Often these are lousy fabrics or cheap synthetic fibers that have been poorly processed.

Due to the poor quality of many used clothes, the collection has now become a minus business for many sorting companies. But even charitable institutions no longer know what to do with the old clothing masses. The consequence: used clothing containers are temporarily blocked, as is the case with the AWO in Schleswig-Holstein. It has currently shut down half of its almost 300 used clothing containers. Stadtreinigung Hamburg is even planning to dismantle all its used clothing containers by the end of September.


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Who collects used clothes?

Basically, there are a large number of organizations and institutions in Germany that collect used clothing. However, not everyone pursues charitable purposes – and it is often not easy for the consumer to recognize who is behind the collections.

  • Various charitable institutions collect used clothes for a good cause, including the German Red Cross, the Arbeiterwohlfahrt, and church institutions. Some of them support specific aid projects at home and abroad and run clothing stores or second-hand shops.
  • There are commercial collectors and resellers who work on behalf of an aid organization. They donate part of their proceeds to aid organizations.
  • Many municipalities also collect used clothing and sell it to commercially used clothing collectors.
  • Commercial collectors are not obliged to make donations or funds available for charitable purposes. Their containers are often found on private property such as parking lots, there are also collections at the front door or in bags and baskets.
  • Some textile retail chains offer customers to drop off their used clothes in the store. The textiles are then recycled by a service provider.

It is important to know that even reputable used clothing collectors sometimes resell the collected textiles. With the money they earn, help can then be provided elsewhere. If you want to make sure that you give your used clothes to a reputable organization that pursues charitable purposes, you can, among other things, orient yourself on quality seals that the consumer center in a flyer lists.

What can consumers do about disposable fashion?

Consumers can do a lot about the clothes madness:

  • Pay attention to quality when shopping for clothes. This protects the environment and saves money.
  • Pass on well-preserved clothing to acquaintances or through second-hand shops and flea markets.
  • Especially for baby and children’s clothing, there are swap meetings in many cities.
  • Repair damage yourself or have it repaired instead of sorting out the textiles right away.
  • Even clothes that can no longer be saved do not belong in the garbage, but in the used clothing collection. Because the fibers can be recycled and reused.