What are you donating to charity?

Every year, I do a big wardrobe clean out. I donate a sack of old clothes to Vinnies, feel good about myself, and use that to justify all the stuff I buy over the next year. It’s a cycle that I’m not proud of, but my guilt is always assuaged: I’m donating to Vinnies, this is going to the Red Cross - it’s recycling! I’m part of the solution! Waste-free and guilt-free, baby!


In theory, this is a good thing. Up-cycling and re-using perfectly good clothes and items help to close the production circle. Buying pre-loved is an act of resistance against the relentless consumerism of the fashion industry.


But the reality is that a surprisingly small percentage of stuff donated to charities is able to be on-sold. What you see on the racks for sale at the Red Cross or the Seaside Scavenge is the crème-de-la-crème, the 1% of donations. People aren’t just donating, they are dumping, and it’s a huge problem.


An ABC Investigation and the end of last year revealed that charities are forced to pay a shocking $13 million a year to send unusable donations to landfill. This money should be going towards the important work charities do; emergency food, shelter, counselling services. Instead they’re contending with a mountain of worn out clothes, used mattresses, broken appliances and more that gets dumped on their doorsteps. 


People are subscribing to a philosophy of ‘de-cluttering’ that is all the rage right now. Netflix’s new spring-cleaning guru Marie Kondo is just one of the culprits: do your things spark joy? If they don’t – in the charity bin! But what we’re seeing is that the charity bin is often just a bin, period. Donation bins surrounded by rubbish bags full of well, rubbish, have become more and more common. At worst, this donating-come-dumping is actively thwarting charities from helping people in need.


We have the same problem at the Scavenge. While we rely on donations for our market, and often get some great stuff, we also get some more… questionable items. For example, we’ve included some photos of a backpack that was donated at our last scavenge. It’s dirty, ripped, and broken. Before donating, ask yourself: would this bring someone elsejoy?  


It’s also time we asked ourselves some harder questions when we are buying things in the first place. Will this bring me joy for a long time to come? Did it bring joy to the people who made it? Will I still get joy from an environment that hasn’t been exploited to create it? 


In Australia, we generate 6000 kilograms of fashion waste every 10 minutes. Most of this is cheap ‘fast fashion’, stuff made to fall apart just in time for the new season release. When this is donated to charities, most of it just ends up in landfill. Brands like H&M are huge culprits – when you buy a shirt for $5, you’re passing the costs on to the environment, and very often the people who made it.

Most of us are privileged enough to have so much clutter we need to clean it out. That means we should be able make the shift from de-cluttering to thinking about how we can buy things that will actually last in the first place. 

Anna Jane Linke