The investigation, conducted by the Netherlands-based Changing Markets Foundation, notes that several international chains have “thrown away the clothes they promised to save”. The organization says the clothes are in excellent condition.
The NGO (NGO) explained in a statement that it used Apple’s “Air Cards” (devices that send location) and was thus able to trace 21 items of used clothing, in perfect condition. Items have been donated to H&M, Zara, C&A, Primark, Nike, The North Face, Uniqlo and M&S stores in Belgium, France, Germany and the UK, and other items have been donated to the large online retailer chain.
Major brands pledge to recycle, produce less waste, and eliminate hazardous chemicals, and offer offers to those who hand in used clothes that they say will be recycled or reused.
According to the organization, despite promises, three-quarters of the items (16 out of 21) have been destroyed, left in warehouses, or exported to Africa, with about half of used clothing being shredded for other uses or abandoned.
Changing Markets gives examples: a pair of pants donated to M&S was destroyed within a week, another pair donated to C&A was burned in a cement kiln, and a skirt donated to H&M traveled 24,800 kilometers from London to a vacant lot in Mali, where it appears to have been discarded. Three materials ended up in Ukraine, where import rules have been relaxed because of the war. Only five items out of 21 in Europe have been reused or ended up in a resale shop.
“Most programs explicitly promise not to throw away serviceable clothing,” the NGO says in the statement. “But none of the brands mentioned keep public records about the fate of clothes donated to them. Instead, they turn them over to companies that specialize in reuse, recycling and final disposal.”
Urska Trunk, of the NGO, quoted in the document, says that store promises are another ruse of “Greenwashing”, because donated items in perfect condition are often destroyed, left in warehouses or sent to the other side of the world.
Changing Markets notes that the EU is strengthening rules on waste and is calling for strong law with mandatory targets for reuse and recycling.
“Greenwashing” is an advertising strategy in which a greenwashing company seeks to convey an image of environmental responsibility, which in reality it does not have.
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