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Around hundred billion new garments are being made each year to meet the demands of global consumers. And hardly worn clothes are piling up in the landfill.

However, some are being donated to charitable second-hand shops to supply essential services for the most disadvantaged in the society. 

Amy Chien-Yu Wang
Published on
Thursday, August 1, 2019 - 15:10
File size
5 min 46 sec

In her early sixties, Vietnam-born Hanh first entered the world of second-hand shopping when she arrived in Australia over thirty years ago.

Hanh volunteers two days a week at Vinnies in Brisbane’s West End.

“When we first came here, we all poor, so certain budget. You have to find a way to get through so I’ve started learning and then friends say, ‘why don’t you visit op shop or second-hand shop? You might find things you know it’s good too.’”

Decades on, her situation has vastly improved but Hanh is still a strong supporter of sustainable shopping.

She says it’s about reusing and recycling goods rather than seeing them go to waste.

“The fashion I found, it will be repeated like a lot of clothes I bought 30 years ago and now the fashion come back. The thing is I can reuse it and I still become fashion now. Just one thing that you have to keep your body shape still the same!”

These days, shopping is more like treasure hunting for Hanh. 

“I am looking for beauty and the history. Just a plate for you to display made in England in early 19th century and if you go into antique shop, the price up will go up to $100 but in the op shop, you might find it for $20, $25. A lot of gem and treasure but you have to keep looking and digging. To me, I believe that if it belong to you, it will wait for you.”

Australia’s 2500 op shops divert nearly 600,000 tonnes of unwanted household items from the dump.

Omer Soker, CEO of the National Association of Charitable Recycling Organisations, says those recycled goods help charities generate around $500 million dollars per year.

“The proceeds of that go to help the most disadvantaged and marginalised communities in Australia. Homelessness, food and shelter, crisis counselling, mental health and every gamet of illness and disability. So it’s a very important thing to do for our society."

68-year-old former public servant Robert Jones is a volunteer for Vinnies in Brisbane’s Nundah. 

“I’ve only bought books here and we get good clothing here. For example, if I am still working, I’d probably get business shirts here.”

Eniko Ekkert has visited many op shops overseas and in Australia.

She also helps out at Vinnies Nundah alongside Jones.

Ekkert notices that people who buy used goods come from all walks of life. 

“We do have people who do come here because they absolutely need the things they can’t afford properly and people come in who just love shopping in op shops as a hobby.”

The fashion industry is one of world’s biggest polluters - producing more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined according to the Nature Climate Change Journal.

Australians purchase around 27 kilograms of textiles per year - 23 kilograms of those end up in landfill.

Ryan Collins from environmental advocacy organisation Planet Ark explains why fast fashion is detrimental to the environment. 

“What we’re throwing into the landfill is the energy, the resources, and the water that goes into making these products that has quite a high environmental and social impact. The fashion industry currently produces about 100 billion new items of clothing every year and three out of five of those items currently end up in landfill within 12 months.”

Considering how conventional low-cost fast fashion is made, Collins says it makes sense for consumers to reuse clothing to reduce waste.

“The thing with a lot of fast fashion and a lot of clothing that we buy these days is made from synthetic fibres which are basically plastic so your polyesters and nylons. These not only have the potential to release microfibres from washing these clothes and then it ends up in our water stream, ends up in the ocean and consumed by the marine life and then potentially us.” 

Relocation company Movingasurveyed 18,000 households in 20 countries to identify how much of our fashion purchases are actually used.

The study revealed that at least half of the clothes in our wardrobe are never worn.

To fight the wastage, Omer Soker advocates a slower shopping experience at second-hand stores.

“Have a look around because there is not only an environmental and a social benefit, there is also personal benefit because it’s not quite as easy. It’s not organised by your size and there’s not 10 of them in a certain colour. You have to slow down and I think that being present in the moment actually is one of the joyous things of being in an op shop because you have to slow down and have a look at what’s there instead of the typical rush rush retail therapy type thing.”