Small change, big impact: Charity shops

Charity shops are a great place to visit if you are on a budget or you are after some unique pieces. They also benefit very worthwhile causes such as Cancer Research UK and The British Heart Foundation. Alongside these obvious benefits, using charity shops can also have a very positive impact on the environment.

Less waste in landfill

The biggest benefit of charity shops is that they reduce the amount of clothes ending up in landfill. In 2016, 895,000 tonnes of textiles and shoes ended up in UK landfills. This is largely down to the culture of buying into fast fashion and replacing your clothes very regularly. In 2018/19, a huge 339,000 tonnes of textiles did not end up in landfill as a result of charity shops in the UK. This a huge amount of clothes that have not been discarded but rather have found a new home. A reduction in landfill waste means a reduction of the CO2 footprint for the country and for the individual.

Promotes reusing and recycling

The vast majority of items sold in charity shops are still in good condition. Just because someone else no longer wants an item, it doesn’t mean the item is rubbish! I have found so many gems in charity shops, including some high end brands that I never would have been able to afford brand new. That being said, the shopping process is admittedly less straight forward than in high street stores. You need a bit of time and patience, and even then some days you may not find anything you like. Don’t give up though, charity shops restock their items very regularly, sometimes even every day. Unlike in fast fashion stores, you never know what you can find. No two pieces are the same.

When charities have stock that no one has purchased for a while, they will try to recycle it where possible. Over 90% of textiles are sent to textile recyclers. This means that even if your donated items are not sold, they are most likely not ending up in landfill which is still a great positive.

Slows down fast fashion

The fast fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to the climate crisis. It mass produces clothes, underpays workers and contributes massively to CO2 emissions. Advertising teams have their work cut out to ensure that the consumer feels the need for a whole new wardrobe every season. This is simply not sustainable, both for your bank account and for the planet.

Shopping in charity shops helps to slow down fast fashion. As more people shop in charity shops, the demand for clothes from mainstream shops decreases. Therefore, the production of clothes also reduces. On top of this, charity shop bought clothes are often a fraction of the price. Individuals may think that they are too small to make a difference; however, as a collective, we are absolutely making a difference, no matter how small your individual contribution may seem.

A chance to upcycle

Upcycling can be an extremely fun hobby. It means you can amend/improve clothes or items to be the way you like them. Having a few sewing skills and a vivid imagination can help to create a piece you truly love. I really enjoy the process as it allows me to be creative and I end up with a different item of clothing. I have recently turned some old jeans into shorts with embroidery on the pockets. Instead of the jeans ending up in landfill, I will now reuse them as a completely different item of clothing. This shows that if you have the time and imagination, you can revamp clothes to suit your taste.

Don’t forget that charity shops do not just sell clothes, most have books, toys and board games. There are also electrical and furniture stores which can even help you to furnish your new student house! If you are after some plates/mugs/small appliances, it may be worth checking your local charity shops before splashing out in a supermarket.

I encourage everyone to donate to charity shops. Most unwanted clothes can be reused by someone else and every small step you take to become more eco-friendly will go a long way. If you are sure charity shops are not for you, you can still donate to them and try to be sustainable in other ways, for example you could organise a clothes swap with your friends or, if you can afford it, invest in garments from slow fashion.

I understand charity shops are not always the best option for everyone and every occasion. Sometimes you may not have the time to wander around shops, or you may be after something very rare or specific. But every small step you take does add up so even shopping in charity shops occasionally can make a big difference.


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