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Being back in the UK for Christmas, I am reminded just how many charity shops there are. In fact recent estimates suggest there are over 10,200 charity shops to be found on high streets throughout the country. Charity shops are largely a British institution. They are retail outlets selling mainly second-hand donated goods to raise funds for different charities. Every year charity shops across the UK raise around GBP 290 million (RMB 2,810 million) for a range of causes.

In the 19th century the Salvation Army ran second hand clothing shops to provide the urban poor with cheap clothing. At the outbreak of World War II, other charities such as British Red Cross started to also operate shops, as a way to raise money for the war effort. Modern charity shops, as we understand them today, did not appear until after World War II. The first of these was opened by Oxfam in 1947 and is still in operation today. The Roundabout store is Beijing’s charity shop equivalent.

Today, a growing number of people use charity shops because of the environmental and ethical benefits of the reuse of goods. Whilst many people donate home ware and furniture items to charity shops, one of the main items to be donated are clothing. Despite this, every year huge amounts of clothing still ends up in the landfill, and as much as 95 percent of these textiles and clothes could be used again. As a major player in the fast fashion industry, Swedish brand H&M has received increased public pressure to be more environmentally aware. So, in 2013 they launched a global clothing take-back program, in 49 stores worldwide to “save natural resources and reduce textile waste.”

The program was launched in all China H&M stores, and to date over 500kg of used clothing has been collected, yet it was only this week that I became aware of it. Beside the H&M store check-outs, at Indigo Mall and Solana, are piles of leaflets describing the scheme. As their leaflet explains “… if you’ve got something worn, torn or hopelessly out of style – don’t throw it away or let it pile up in the back of your wardrobe or in your loft. Bring it to us and help decrease the amount of fashion and textiles being wasted.” Clothes can be of any brand and in any condition, and for every bag you hand over you’ll receive a voucher with a discount for your next purchase. H&M also will donate money to UNICEF, for every kilo of clothes they collect.

Since the scheme started, over 11,000kg of textiles have been collected. The scheme works in a number of ways. Rewear - clothing and textiles that can be worn or used again are marketed worldwide as second-hand goods. Recycle textiles that can’t be reused get a new chance as textile fibers, or are used to manufacture products such as damping and insulating materials for the auto industry. Reuse textiles that are no longer suitable to wear are converted into other products, such as cleaning cloths. Energy when rewear, reuse and recycle are not options, textiles are used to produce energy.

Critics of the scheme feel that because those donating clothing receive a discount voucher, this encourages consumers to buy even more clothing, which in turn causes more waste. I spent 13 years working in the waste and recycling industry, and we used to break down people’s recycling behavior into three categories non-recyclers (admit to not recycling at all); non-committed recyclers (will recycle some things if it’s easy to do so); and committed recyclers (recycle a lot or everything they can). An incentive, especially a financial one, appeals to all of these groups, and encourages them to recycle more. For the non-recyclers, an incentive can be enough to encourage them to become recyclers. Surely that can only be a good thing.

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This article first appeared on beijing-kids.com, Beijing's Essential International Family Resource.

Photos: Eve Jones, Jen Collins (Flickr)

Visit the original source and full text: the Beijinger Blog