I was driving around town running errands the other day and saw this empty lot on the corner of two main roads. It surprised me that a business has never gone up there. It'd be a great spot for a Wawa. Instead, it's overgrown and has a clothing donation bin. I'm not 100% sure which one because I didn't get close enough to read a label, but it's yellow, which I believe is associated with a company called Planet Aid. I wondered what happens after I donate here. Where do the clothes go? Who are they helping?
Enter a 5-hour google black-hole. I started at the company's website and read through the basic marketing material which left me with the impression these clothes were really helping people and the environment. They claim to remove a significant amount of textile waste by reselling vs it building up in landfills. The majority of donated clothing is packaged up in bundles, unsorted, and sold overseas to local companies that resell the bundles to local vendors. These vendors will then unpackage the bundle, sort and sell the clothing, often at roadside stands in developing countries. This helps supports small businesses in those areas. Planet Aid makes money through this process and reinvests some of it into developing countries, primarily in Africa. This all sounds great.
Enter the rest of the internet. After reading through the company's marketing site, I Googled, Planet Aid, looking for news references or other media. I started with Wikipedia, and found articles on Gawker, NBC Washington, and CharityWatch. These sites report a different story. They link the non-profit to a controversial Danish company founded by a fugitive wanted for alleged tax evasion. The articles imply that little to no money may be going to help the needy communities in Africa. It seems questionable where the proceeds from the resale of donated clothes is going.
I did not think I'd find this kind of information out there, I was just curious about how the donations were handled and where the clothes ended up. I've dropped off clothing at these boxes in the past. It seems like Planet Aid might be supplying affordable inventory for those small businesses that buy the donated clothes in bulk, but any proceeds from those sales might not be making it to the charities they claim to support. Knowing all this now, I'm more likely to try to get it to the local Goodwill or try to upcycle the clothing myself into rags, chew toys, rugs, or one of the many other ideas I find on Pinterest.
I guess you can't trust all charities and should do some research. CharityWatch offers some pretty good tips on donating here.