Sunday, July 15, 2012

Stuffed - America's obsession with junk

Stat of the day: US children represent just 3% of the world's total population of children the US accounts for 40% of all toys sold in the world.

I can't take credit for clever title.  That belongs to a friend who coined the phrase after watching every house in our small town explode with children's toys and piles of clothing during the recent village-wide yard sales.

I recently lugged a pile of clothing and miscellaneous cast-offs dutifully to the local charity in the hopes that someone nearby might be able to make use of our "stuff".  Silly, silly me thinking that things still worked that way.  After a little digging around the web it became clear that the days of handing in a donation of clothing that will be sold to someone as clothing are practically gone.

Here's how I understand the process as it happens in large donation areas - 1) Clothes are sorted and the best clothing may be held for resale or shipped to a regional distribution site for resale.  2) Most of the clothing does not fall into the "best of the best" category and their fate is less pleasant.  These clothes are baled in 1/2 ton blocks of used Gap, Old Navy and Target clothes.  One fairly busy collection center in NYC recently stated that they collect 18 tons of clothes in the average 3 day period.

These bales are then sent to textile "recyclers" that pull apart the 1,000 pound monuments to excess and sort them again.  They hope to find good (name brands or quality materials) products but almost 1/2 of the bales on average (roughly 500lbs) turns out to be unusable.  The unusable clothes end up being shipped off to rag vendors for their final act.

The remaining clothes (generally, the good, not great) are sorted at this point and if they are wearable they are then sold again to overseas vendors.  By some estimates used clothing is among the leading products that the US exports today.   I'd love to see someone do a Food, Inc., style documentary following the life of a t-shirt donated to one of the major charities.

I know this is the way the system has evolved as profit motive has invaded the world of charity, but I have two questions:

1) Shouldn't we be taking a hard look at the charitable deductions list at Salv****n A**y stores?  If I donate a shirt and take a $3 tax deduction for that contribution it's not fair to the US taxpayers if they sell it 2 days later for $0.02.  I'm taking what I believe to be the "fair market value" as my deduction but it is clear the true market value is some tiny fraction of that number.  The value of the tax deduction to me could be $1 or so, but the value to the charity was just a couple of pennies so something is off.

2) In the wake of the great recession we have record numbers of people on food stamps.  It seems like there are more and more local people hurting every day and yet our largest charities are still shipping the majority of their donations overseas?  That seems like misplaced priorities.

Sorry for the rant.  Anyone want to start a local charity serving local people?  I'd fully support that effort.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had done some digging myself on this very topic and uncovered similar information. I had wondered why so often, you'd see this ridiculously western, commercialized, logoed tees on poor African kids.