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Used Clothing Recycling Services are Not Waste Collection Rational Consumption is the Solution

  • 2022.08.15

With the relative material abundance in Hong Kong, many consumers may have clothes that are rarely worn or even left untouched at the bottom of their wardrobes. In recent years, many organisations offer used clothing recycling services for consumers to donate their clothes to avoid wastage. The Consumer Council surveyed 11 organisations on the market that offer clothing recycling services, and found that the clothing must meet certain criteria to be eligible for donation, including the clothing type, cleanliness condition, and hygiene level. A minimum donation quantity is also applied for clothes to be collected door-to-door. Clothing recycling services can help to extend the lifespan of clothes and promote environmental protection. However, to achieve sustainable consumption, a more direct and effective way than donating clothes is to reduce waste at its source, by shopping rationally according to "need" rather than "want", and refraining from purchasing large quantities of “fast fashion” garments that are cheap yet less durable and have short fashion trend cycles.

The Council stresses that in order to achieve effective “decluttering and detaching”, consumers must start with “decluttering” by cutting out excessive or unnecessary consumption, and beware of unconsciously continuing to indulge in purchasing and hoarding clothing with “recyclability” as an excuse, in turn stockpiling more clothes that require detaching.

From May to June this year, the Council’s staff, posing as mystery shoppers, surveyed 11 organisations offering used clothes recycling schemes to consumers and reviewed the details of the different schemes through their websites, social media pages, retail outlets and customer service hotlines. The survey covered 11 organisations, including 6 non-profit organisations (NPOs) and 5 clothing chains. Among the NPOs, 4 were Scheme Managers of the Community Used Clothes Recycling Bank Scheme implemented by the Home Affairs Department. The Scheme was launched in 2006 and is a partnership between non-governmental organisations and the Government. Recycling banks are mainly located in public spaces on Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories to facilitate clothing donations for the public.

Requirements and Conditions for Recyclable Clothing Vary

The surveyed organisations each had different requirements for the types of clothing that could be recycled. Although the clothing types accepted by the 6 NPOs were generally similar, including clothes, handbags and backpacks, 5 of them specified that they would not accept genuine fur, infants’ and toddlers’ clothing, bedding, etc. Certain organisations even stated that they would not accept footwear, and that the used clothing must be in season, while winter clothing might not be accepted all year round. As for the 5 clothing chains, only 2 would accept recycled clothing or sportswear from any brand, another only accepted products of its own brand, while the other 2, which belonged to the same parent company, only accepted clothing of their own and associated brands. In addition, both NPOs and clothing chains generally would not accept undergarments such as underwear and socks, swimwear, uniforms, group event tops with logos, etc. The Council recommends that consumers visit relevant organisations' websites or social media pages to clearly understand the latest recycling requirements and information before donating clothes.

Donated Clothes Must Be Clean   Avoid Contaminating the Recycling Banks

Donors should note that most organisations have certain requirements regarding the cleanliness of recycled items. Among the organisations surveyed, 3 NPOs indicated that donated items should be at least 80% new, 5 (3 NPOs and 2 clothing chains) required clothing to be free from tears or stains, while 4 (1 NPO and 3 clothing chains) had no specific requirements on the condition of the clothing. At the same time, many organisations reported that they had found stained, mouldy or odorous used clothes in their recycling banks. The Council reminds consumers that once clothes of poor hygiene are placed into the sealed recycling banks, they might contaminate other used clothing and even render the whole container of clothes unrecyclable. Not only does this defeat the original purpose of the donation, but it might also waste the goodwill of other donors. Although most organisations would sterilise the used clothing, consumers should not treat recycling banks as a collection point for old and dirty clothes. Before the clothes are dropped off for recycling, they should be washed and cleaned to ensure cleanliness and hygiene.

Conditions and Charges for Home Collection Services Differ

Unlike clothing chains, the vast majority of NPOs included in the survey offered door-to-door used clothes collection services, but the conditions for free collection, or the charge per bag of collected clothes, differed considerably. For example, 4 organisations required a minimum donation of 3 bags and up to over 10 bags of clothing to be eligible for free pick-up service. If the donation did not reach the relevant quantity, a fee of $200 would be charged by one of the organisations for supporting its social and humanitarian services. As another example, an organisation required a collection fee of $500 per box of clothing and a minimum of 3 boxes of clothing to be collected at each visit, i.e. a minimum spending of $1,500. In addition, when calculating the number of bags of used clothes, consumers should be aware that the definition of a “bag” of clothing varies among organisations. The Council recommends that consumers understand the reference sizes of garment bags for different organisations when using the relevant services. Besides, if the pick-up location is remote, lacks suitable parking facilities or has poor road conditions, the organisations would decide whether to provide an on-site collection service depending on the actual circumstances.

Clothing collection services have been impacted in recent years by the unstable COVID-19 situations. The survey revealed that when the pandemic was severe, out of the 10 surveyed organisations with used clothes recycling banks or collection points, 4 NPOs would suspend all or certain collection services, and 1 clothing chain recommended that consumers postpone donations to their stores. Among the 5 NPOs that provided door-to-door collection services, 4 would stop doing so. On the contrary, 4 (1 NPO and 3 clothing chains) claimed that they would not suspend any collection services due to the pandemic.

Consumers who are interested in donating clothing may wish to refer to the following:

  • Used clothes must be washed and wrapped in a bag before donation and then properly dropped off at recycling banks or collection points. Never leave donated items at the front door of organisations or next to the recycling banks so as to prevent them from being stolen or mistakenly disposed of as rubbish;
  • Many of the recycled clothes will be sent to tropical regions such as Southeast Asia and Africa, where there is limited demand for warm clothing. Consumers can give their winter clothes to friends and relatives first and then send them for recycling if there is any surplus;
  • Over half of the surveyed NPOs would send recycled clothes to their second-hand shops or stalls for charity sales, or distribute or exchange them at environmental protection events. Purchasing second-hand items can help reduce waste and support sustainable consumption;
  • Before discarding old clothes, consumers should consider whether they can be reused, repaired or given to friends and relatives to prolong their lifespan as much as possible.



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