Is Op Shopping as good as we think it is?

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The Op Shop Etiquette
“You’ll be so proud of me, I just dropped off four bags full of clothes to the op shop!” She says, as she grabs another skirt off the sale rack ‘just coz’.

When you gather a pile of unwanted clothes, the usual response these days, is to drop them at the op shop, or shove them in those wide mouthed metal donation bins. Although you may think this is the best option for unwanted items, think again.

Op shops have become the new landfill. They’re a reason for feeling good about fast fashion habits, and the cause behind the startling hidden world of the second-hand clothing trade.

What? So, I’m not a saint for giving my stained t-shirts to the salvation army?

In Australia, The Salvation Army alone spends $6 million a year on landfill fees. Only about 5% of donated goods actually make it to the shop floor: the rest is sent to landfill (at a huge cost to the charity), or shipped overseas to third world countries.

Phew, you may be thinking, at least those in need get our seconds! Nope: the story gets worse.

The second-hand clothing trade in places such as Haiti and parts of Africa, has become so dominating, that locally trading seamstresses have been forced out of work. Traditional sewing techniques have been lost, and individuals can no longer live off the stable income of tailoring and making. Instead, they live in a daily gamble with the variable quality of second-hand clothes; they never know what will arrive on their shores, and what will be in sellable condition. And where do their unsold clothes end up? In landfill.

Sorry to burst your bubble for a second time, but donating to an op shop does not give you a free pass to purchase five miniskirts in one afternoon.

Giving to op shops serves as both an excuse to buy more from fast fashion stores, and an encourager to keep consuming more in the op shops themselves, simply because it’s second-hand. The idea of sustainable fashion is to consume LESS stuff, produce LESS waste, and care for the items you have. Guaranteed, if you bought a shirt from the second-hand shop for $3, you’d be far more likely to discard it after a few wears without a second thought. Guilty?

Op shops have quickly turned into the cheapest dumping ground, meanwhile, every dollar these charities spend disposing of our crap, isn’t going to people who need it. The second-hand clothing trade is creating economic issues all over the globe, and serving as an excuse to continue consuming clothes at an unsustainable rate.

Fortunately for us op shop addicts, the answer is not to boycott it all together. Op shopping promotes a circular economy that keeps resources ‘in the game’, rather than redundant. Using up resources we already have, by shopping for “one man’s trash” (lyrics from the thrift-king himself, Macklemore) is a great way of consuming with less impact on the environment. But there’s a strict code of conduct we need to follow to keep op shopping sustainable for people and the planet.

The Op Shop Etiquette:

  1. Wash and repair: Gift items to the op shop in a sellable state. Wash clothes, fix buttons, and remove old batteries. Stained underwear and broken electronics are a definite no no. Only gift things in a state that you would be comfortable purchasing yourself.

  2. Rehome before you donate: Consider friends or family who may appreciate your unwanted items.

  3. Become a virtual op shop volunteer: Dreamed of volunteering at the op shop, but find you’re never available at the right time of day? Sell your items online, and gift profits to a charity of your choice. This way, you’re removing the volunteer time of processing the items in store, but still giving back.

  4. Ask before you drop: Op shops have seasons, sporadic overflows of the same items, and minimal storage. Before you drop off unwanted goodies, ask instore what items they need or have too much of. E.g. Store your winter clothes until autumn comes around.

  5. Never drop and run: Piling your crap at the front of the store during closing hours, should be a criminal offence. We’ve covered the facts: op shops are not your landfill, so don’t ruin this amazing circular system for everyone. Dispose of your rubbish appropriately (e.g. separate your e-waste, batteries, recycling, textiles), and gift items to the op shop when their sorting department is open and willing.


Article written by Kate Hall, from Ethically Kate

Jasmine MayheadComment