UFF clothing collection, what happens to clothing donations?

Where do clothing donations go? Check out UFF's clothing collection

* Commercial cooperation with UFF *
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Many Finns are so familiar with UFF and its collection boxes that we rarely even think about UFF's role as a recycler of our used textiles. Collection boxes have been part of the landscape for 34 years. It’s hard to exaggerate their role in learning to recycle our clothes instead of throwing them away with our other unsorted rubbish in a landfill and later in energy waste.
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millions of kilos of textiles have been recycled through clothing collection
UFF has collected 200 million kilos in donations during its operations.

 

So when it comes to textile recycling in Finland, there is no mention of UFF's collection and recycling system. That’s why I wanted to take a closer look at UFF’s clothing collection business and find out how such a huge collection system is run and what our donations do.

Reuse is the best option for the environment

The Waste Act defines the order of priority according to which textiles must first be reused as such, secondarily recycled as material and only waste unsuitable for further use is incinerated in energy production.

UFF's clothing collection service therefore primarily aims to direct donations to reuse. Last year, 95,9% of UFF's collection was reused, either as such or as material.

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Clothing collection accessible to almost every Finn

Through UFF, 14-15 million kilos of goods are circulated annually, mainly textiles. This is a significant part of the approximately 63 million kilos of waste textiles produced annually by Finnish households.

Of course, this would not be possible without an efficient collection network. Today, there are collection boxes at 1522 points, accessible to 5,4 million Finns. It is the accessibility of collection points that has made the recycling of textiles for reuse easy enough that the practice has become established in our daily lives.

Every collection point will be emptied at least once a week, depending on the location, and donations will end up at UFF's sorting centers in Helsinki and Klaukkala. 

Sorting is reuse optimization

Clothing bags arrive at the sorting center by truckload, but in order to achieve the best possible result, donations are sorted by hand. 

Each donation is reviewed by a trained sorter who evaluates the condition, purpose and timeliness of the products. The sorter therefore decides which is the best place to go for each product at that time and sorts out different types of clothes, shoes, bags, etc. At the same time, it disposes of unusable clothes that go to textile recycling or energy waste, as well as everything else that doesn't belong in clothing collection. All this happens in just a few seconds.

 Sorting clothing donations at UFF's sorting centerOne roll at a time is tipped to a sorting line where each donation goes through.

Reusable donations

Most reusable donations are sold. The sales revenue is used to finance the domestic clothing collection service, as well as UFF's development cooperation in Africa.

According to world demand

About 5% of donations are sold in about twenty UFF stores in Finland. But why not everyone?

The number of donations exceeds many times what can be sold in Finland through stores. In other words, we discard a lot more clothing than we buy used. In UFF's stores, only current, seasonal products with the highest demand in our market are sorted. 

UFF sorting center, from fine sorting to stores

After the first round of sorting, the products going to UFF's stores at the sorting center go through fine sorting, which specifies the selection according to the needs of the stores. There are no products left in stock, so only products that are suitable for the season go to the stores. 

However, there is a demand elsewhere for good second-hand clothing in good condition. About 80% of donations are sold to wholesale customers, the largest of which are advanced sorting centers in the Baltics. In the local market, when it is possible to sell clothes suitable for the northern climate. UFF's wholesale customers in Africa, on the other hand, are supplied with products sorted according to their wishes. This will ensure meaningful re-use for all parties.

Wholesale customers also accurately optimize and report on their sorting work and its results. It is known that 70% of all donations will remain for sale in Europe.

Shoes from the clothing collection

Shoes sorted and ready to go on sale.

 

For those in need of donations

Some of the donations, about 4%, will continue to be donated. In Finland, donations have been made to, for example, unemployed organizations and diaconal work.

Teddy bear at the sorting center

Plush toys can be donated to rescue services, for example, to comfort children.

Clothing donations are also made to UFF's partner organizations in Africa for fundraising. Through clothing sales, development partners raise funds for, among other things, training and development cooperation projects.

Sometimes clothes are also donated as emergency aid to crisis areas.

Unusable for circulation or energy

Just over 10% of donations are non-reusable. Of the textiles, these are broken, permanently dirty, too worn, wet or moldy. Depending on the condition, the textiles are sorted either as recyclable material for the needs of the construction industry, for example. Completely unusable, such as moldy textiles, are delivered as energy waste. 

In addition, donations come with other non-clothing materials, such as electronic scrap or metal. These will also be delivered for proper recycling, but the extra sorting work, logistics and recycling fees will be borne by the charity.

All non-reusable material is handled in Europe.

Electronics are not included in clothing collection

Non-clothing items take money from charity work.

What can I donate?

You can donate to UFF's clothing collection clothing, textiles, shoes, toys and sports equipment in working order.

A garment that is very worn or broken is no longer donated. These are to be delivered to textile collection, if there is one in your area, and to energy waste if there is no separate textile collection in the area yet. The exception is vintage, which has value even when small.

Permanently dirty clothes, such as greasy or moldy clothes, should be disposed of as energy waste.

See recycling instructions here

Pack your donation carefully

The amount of clothing in circulation is so large that storage is not possible, and donations are directed from the sorting center directly for sale. So preferably donate seasonal items. The current product is more likely to find the best possible location faster and closer to it.

Content alone does not decide in donation, but packaging also matters. So pack your donation carefully, waterproof. Wet clothes cannot be recycled and mold spreads quickly in textiles, possibly ruining the entire collection batch. So a properly sealed plastic bag is an eco-bigger bigger hassle!  

 

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Sources:

UFF Annual Report 2020

UFF.fi

Interviews

Finnish Environment Institute: Finnish textile flow survey

Photos: Maj-Lis Viitanen

Upcycler home page

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