Where do donated clothes end up?

Where do donated clothes end up?

YLE, the Finnish Broadcasting Company, and its investigative journalism program  MOT: Tracking Your Used Garments,  investigated where donated clothes ended up.  Fida’s green hoodie ended up on a route through Lithuania to Nigeria. This outcome was unfortunate but did not surprise us, since poor-condition used  garments  do not generally find buyers in Finland or Europe, and there are currently no possibilities for large-scale textile material recycling in Finland.  

Around 72 million kilos of textiles are recycled or thrown out each year in Finland.  This is one of the reasons why Fida secondhand has developed its textile sorting – to ensure that all donated textiles that can be re-used either as clothes or raw material are done so, rather than being burned in Finnish waste-to-energy powerplants. Thank you for giving a new life to your garments through us!  

Fida  secondhand is one of the largest chains of charity secondhand stores in Finland.  It’s history dates back to 1979, when the first LKA store was opened in Sörnäinen, Helsinki. Today, Fida secondhand has 22 shops and one outlet in Finland. 

Giving new life to donated clothes, furniture and other items is the heart of Fida secondhand’s business. Each year donated goods are recycled and exchanged into a better life for the world’s poorest by us. We aim to bring hope and a future to the poorest of the poor. 

Together with its customers, Fida has been able to recycle more than 800 football fields of clothes and other items in the past 40 years. In 2019 alone, Fida received more than 1.6 million kilos of textile donations through its Fida secondhand Shops, pick-up service, and clothing collection boxes.Of this amount, Fida’s clothing sorting facility in Helsinki handled 1.3 million kilos of textiles and the rest was sorted locally in Fida secondhand shops outside the capital region.  

25 per cent of donated clothing was sold in Fida secondhand Shops.  Like other secondhand chains in Finland, Fida secondhand does not have the resources or equipment to efficiently recycle textile waste. Therefore, it is vital that donations are fit for resale and are packed properly in closed plastic bags to keep thefrom getting wet, dirty or damaged. In the worstcase scenario, a garment that is dirty or wet ends up being burned in waste-for-energy power plants – something that is expensive for Fida and other charities alike. In 2019, 13 per cent of all donated textiles had this kind of ending. 

Fida aims to  continuously  develop its processes and operations, in order to best take advantage of all received donations. Fida was awarded the Finnish Key Flag mark in 2019. The mark recognises that the service has been produced in Finland, and that Fida as an organization creates jobs in Finland. Fida also actively participates in co-operation efforts in the Finnish textile industry, particularly regarding textile recycling and refining. One example of this kind of co-operation is the Telaketju 2.0 project. 

90 per cent  of  textiles donated to Fida were utilised in Finland or in the EU   

In 2019, as much as  90 per cent of textiles donated to Fida were utilised either as clothing or raw material in Finland or the EU. The donated garments that did not end up being sold in Finland were sold to partners in the EU (50 per cent of the donations) or were donated to charity inside the EU (8 per cent of the donations). Fida donates clothing to several select projects, such as to Eastern European villages as part of the Toivon Kipinä Christmas campaign.  In 2019Fida also donated clothing to Hämeen Mokia ryAsaria ry and small churches inside the European Union. These organisations and churches distribute clothes to needy people in Finland, the Baltic countries, and parts of Eastern Europe. 

Fida carefully selects its wholesale partners in the EU. Before starting cooperation, Fida collects information on the prospective partner – data relating to the partner’s processes and operations, certification, waste management, and resale practices. The aim is to ensure proper resale and waste management practices and effective utilization of the textiles. 

Less than 10 per cent of  Fida’s donated clothes ended up outside of Europe 

Fida primarily works with wholesale partners that sort, refine and sell textiles locally, inside the EU. However, these partners have finite capacity, and cannot process all the textiles which Fida has to offerFor this reason, Fida also works with European partners that have broader global networksAfter receiving the textiles, the partners sort the clothes once againIn this second phase of sorting, textile waste is disposed of according to EU regulationsSome of the textiles are sold locally, others are sold wholesale to other European countries. Textiles with poor resale value are transformed into towels or wipers meant for industrial use or are recycled in some other way. A small portion, less than 10 per cent of the donated garments in 2019, continue to countries outside of Europe.  

Fida’s wholesale partners utilise the donated textiles that are not fit for sale in Finland. Fida prefers partners that emphasize textile recycling. These partners focus on producing industrial towels and wipers from poor-condition clothing, and local resale of good-condition clothing.  It is important to note that these partners follow EU regulationswhich ensures that the textiles are processed in safe and humane conditions and facilities, and that waste is handled in an environmentally friendly way.  

Why is donating poor-condition clothing to charity not a good idea? 

Why is it so expensive to sort textiles?  

The sorting of rags is time-consuming and expensive, as each sorted item needs to be reviewed by hand. Sorting of clothes is professional work; thus, Fida has trained qualified, experienced sorters who have an eye for the sorting of donations – they make the decision if a garment is fit for sale or not. 

For charity organisations, garments that are not fit for resale create a lot of extra cost in the form of waste management fees. As cheap fashion growpopularity, so does the portion of donated clothing that not fit for resale and must be disposed of. People might donate dirty or worn-out clothes without realising that charity organisations cannot utilise these.  The extra costs incurred by handling this type of clothing means less money for Fida International’s core charity operations. 

More information: 

Here you can read more about how to donate goods to Fida secondhand. Outi Pyy, a Finnish influencer of sustainable fashion, has also written a blog post on this subject (in Finnish only). 


2019 in numbers 

vaatteiden kohtalo

In 2019, over 1.6 million kilos of clothes were donated to Fida secondhand. The donated clothes were sorted into three categories: 

  • 21% were I-quality clothes sold in Fida secondhand Shops in Finland 
  • 62% were II-quality clothes, not fit for local sale. Most of it was sold to partners in the EU, 8% was donated to charity, and the rest was sold in Fida’s outlet. 
  • 13% was converted to energy. This third category included clothes that were dirty, wet, or otherwise unable to be used anymore. II-quality clothes that for some reason were not able to be sold or donated were also utilised as energy. 
  • 4% was used as a binding agent for hazardous waste processing.