Used clothes collected for charity are being exported for profit

By Cao Siqi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/3 18:58:39

A recycling bin is placed in a neighborhood in Anhui Province. Photo: IC

After the wide installation of recycling bins at streets and residential communities, people have been donating their used clothes for the sake of charity and environmental protection. However, to their astonishment, some people have found that their donated clothes were exported to Africa, becoming part of a business chain for some to make huge profits.

An undercover video filmed by Qingdao Television in East China's Shandong Province has gone viral, triggering public outcry. In the video, the reporters followed a truck that collected used clothes from recycling bins and transported them to a warehouse in Qingdao's Licang district. A warehouse employee told the reporters that these used clothes would be washed and sterilized and then sent to the next destination.

After a whole night of wait, the reporters found that these packed clothes were sent to a factory in a local village, where the clothes would undergo further processing for sale. "The zips are sold at 20 yuan per kilogram and 20,500 yuan per ton," said one of the workers, adding that clothes of good quality have already been exported to Africa.

The video has sparked heated discussion online, with many people saying that while they are not opposed to the sale of used clothes, they firmly condemn those who are making profit in the name of charity.

Insiders pointed out that the reuse of used clothes is an emerging market in China and the combination of charity and commercial use could be a better solution to make the most of the resources, while calling for a supervision over the installation of recycling bins and stricter check on the enterprises which are engaged in the business.

Secondhand trading

In China, old clothes can be legally exported to some countries for donation and reuse.

China's exports of used clothes to Africa could be traced back to 20 years ago, but the business began to grow only after 2008. However, the market is not as profitable as people expected, said Fang Xiaodong, founder of, China's old clothes website, a sales platform that provides market information about old clothes, shoes or other articles for daily use. 

"For example, the summertime secondhand clothes are purchased at the price of 4,000 ($594) to 6,000 yuan per ton and exported at the price of 8,000 yuan per ton. Some money is needed for operation, hiring workers and customs clearance. There won't be any profits left," Fang told the Global Times.

According to the latest statistics from the China Association of Circular Economy, about 26 million tons of used clothes were thrown into trash cans annually and less than 1 percent of them were reused.

"As there is a huge market in Africa, some enterprises purchase second-hand clothes from individuals or factories. To save the cost, some of them to place recycling bins to collect them. Enterprises in Guangdong usually can sell summer clothes at the price of around 5,500 yuan per ton while the price could be cheaper in North or Northwest China," said Fang.

Recycling bins

A property manager from a residential community in Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province told the Global Times on condition of anonymity that it is very easy to place recycling bins at the community.

"You only need to show your business license and sign a contract with the property management, then you can get the right to place recycling bins. And the property management would not interfere with how the bins are managed in the community," said the manager.

Fang added that it is not realistic to rely on philanthropic organizations to deal with the clothes as "the number of used clothes far exceeds the need. Moreover, the cost of donation is too high and few charity organizations can do it very well." Fang suggested a better solution is to combine public welfare with commercial utilization.

Over the past three years, the Shanghai Yuan Yuan Industrial Co, the first clothes recycling business in the city and China, has recycled some 2,200 tons of clothes. Currently, The Love Knitting Club of the Meilong No. 3 Community in Shanghai's Xuhui district, which was formed in early 2013, was the first community knitting club in the city to work with Yuan Yuan, making and sending hand-knitted clothes to children in rural areas.

These charity clothes account for 10 percent of the company's produce - the rest is where the company seeks to make a profit. The refreshed, dry cleaned and sterilized summer clothes are exported to African and Middle Eastern countries where they could be sold for 5,000 yuan a ton. These exports account for around 8 percent of the total of the company's recycled clothing.

The government should release related regulations to supervise the installation of recycling bins and issue certificates to enterprises that are eligible to collect old clothes and reuse them, said Fang.

Newspaper headline: Profiting from charity

Posted in: SOCIETY

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