Why I won’t be donating to the “Phil the Bag” recycling scheme for schools

20160513_203749
Clothes Swap Event

If you have kids at school, you’ll know the drill.  A letter from school asking that you donate something or other to help the school raise funds, or to use for a project. Or that you go and buy something to donate for the school fete, or that they need to go in fancy dress, usually with about half a day’s notice.

These things always make me anxious.  I’m no good at sewing (I was always bottom of the class and ditched it for woodwork as soon as I could – not that I’m any good at that either) and if I am going to buy something I want it to be secondhand, or free of packaging – and the short notice always makes this difficult. I like to plan things ahead. But I also don’t want to feel guilty for being the mum that doesn’t join in with the idea.

My son has just started at a new school.  I was hoping things might be slightly different. He told me they had been asking for nominations for  “Eco Warriors” or “Eco Council”.  Although he didn’t want to stand he did want to suggest they had more recycling bins, particularly in the dining area and told me that he had been telling his class all about “Plastic Free July”.  Proud mum moment (of course I really wanted him to volunteer as well – but he thought it would be more boring than football!).

Then came the first letter asking for something.  Donations to an “innovative fundraising programme” called Phil the Bag (and there are many other similar schemes operating in schools around the UK).  On the face of it this looks a good idea.  You take in your unwanted, but still useable, clothes and other textiles.  The school receives money based on the  quantity of textiles they collect.  At the same time this, and I quote the school’s letter “not only develops the children’s sense of enterprise but also teaches them about the importance of recycling and how we can protect the environment.”  Sounds great doesn’t it?

Being the curious sort of person I am I contacted the school to see if they knew more about what actually happens to the donated textiles.  I then searched online myself and easily found the website for the scheme.  And the educational aspect of it looks great – and I can see it would be very attractive to schools.  They are even helping the environment by no longer providing plastic bags for you to fill but asking you to provide your own (surely this couldn’t be a cost cutting exercise?).

So, what happens to your donations? 

The first thing I noticed is that Phil the Bag is not a charity.  This is clearly stated if you look at their website.  They are a business, buying good quality clothes at a knockdown price to sell on for a profit.

The donated textiles are sold on to a wholesaler in Africa who then sells them on to local markets.  It has been suggested that this kind of trade undermines the local economy as the market is flooded with cheap clothes from the West. This puts local people out of work. A friend tells me there was an investigative programme on this on TV (Dispatches or Unreported World or similar).  The volume of donations (you only need to imagine the number of schools and community groups participating in such schemes as a way of fundraising to see this is going to be vast) means that at least some of it is likely to end up in landfill sites in Africa rather than ever being sold.  Are we simply shifting our problems of overconsumption overseas rather than facing up to them at home? A number of African countries have actually banned imported clothing to start addressing this issue, which also affects the countries’ balance of trade surplus/deficit.

And we are teaching the children that this is good “recycling”.  Actually it is not “recycling” but “re-use” but perhaps I’m a pedant.  Perhaps there are more Rs we should be telling them about as well, starting with Refuse and Reduce.  There is no denying that it is “enterprising”, but on the part of the company making all the profit, rather than the school.

Such schemes are also potentially diverting goods from genuine charities or relief projects.

Is there a better alternative?

I would love the children to learn about re-use in the context of a Circular Economy operating at a much more local level.  Why send our clothes all the way to Africa if they can be found a good new home in the same town?

Of course the school needs to raise funds (the letter says the scheme will raise money for “vital resources” – trying to make me feel guilty if I don’t take part?), but perhaps a Swishing event (clothes swap) or even a table top sale could raise an amount closer to the real value of the donated goods.  This may not have the “ready made” educational resource that comes with schemes like the Phil the Bag, but the benefits might really be much greater.

And if you do want to donate to people in Africa, do so through a genuine charity – if the intention is to clothe people in Africa, it might be better to donate money to be spent on locally made clothes rather than to swamp them with our unwanted items. And if you want to donate your unwanted clothes, do a bit of research into where they will end up, as some charities, and a lot of those organisations posting bags through your letterbox, also send clothes to overseas wholesalers as reported in this BBC article  Where do Your Old Clothes Go?

Phil the Bag – this is one innovative fund raising programme in which I won’t be taking part. And I won’t be feeling guilty.

Now I just have to explain that to my 9 year old.

 

UPDATE

After writing I noticed that Phil the Bag claim to be an official partner to Eco Schools, an initiative run by Keep Britain Tidy.  I contacted Keep Britain Tiday in the hope they could allay my concerns.  I have now received a response and it turns out that Phil the Bag have not actually worked with Eco Schools for many years.  Keep Britain Tidy say they entirely agree that we should be teaching our kids about the circular economy at a local rather than global level and suggest The Salvation Army as a better partner to worth with on clothing donation schemes.

 

 

 

 

 

Wardrobe Revamp – Preloved Style

Since I wrote about not needing any more clothes No new clothes – learning to love the clothes I have and realising I actually don’t need more., and successfully extended my challenge to not acquire any new or new to me clothing from an initial 4 month period to 10 months, I have really fallen off the wagon when it come to clothes shopping.  Over the last 6 weeks I have acquired, I think, 3 new dresses, 3 new tops, a scarf and a necklace .

But do you know, I don’t feel guilty about it at all – all my recent acquisitions have been pre-owned and purchased in aid of charity, at a friend’s fantastic clothes swap party and the local Oxfam Shop.    These are great ways of having a bit of a wardrobe makeover without breaking the bank, and in a more sustainable way than buying cheap new fast fashion. And this is pretty much all I have bought over the past year.

Buying pre-loved is an easy way to be part of a circular economy, prolonging the life of items and preventing (or at the very least delaying) them ending up in landfill.  My new clothes were all acquired without a need for more resources going into clothes production, and in turn many of the items I no longer wanted were passed on to new owners.

Swishing Party (Clothes Swap)

This has to be my favourite way of looking for some new clothes. Even though I didn’t end up with quite what I wanted this time, it was a great social event.

A friend kindly opened her house to host a swishing party which was really well attended.  I had a bit of a wardrobe rummage and managed to come up with 2 coats, 2 skirts, 4 pairs of trousers, 1 pair of shorts, 1 cardigan, 1 blouse, 2 hats, 2 necklaces, 2 belts and 1 handbag to take along.  Wow, that’s 18 things I had in my wardrobe that I didn’t need or want!  And that’s not counting the ones I couldn’t quite decide about, some of which went later.  I hoped to come home with a dress, ideally a shirt dress.

Clothes swap parties work in a number of ways but for this one, there was a £5 entry fee with clothes sold at a flat rate of 50p per item.  I also took along a bottle of Cava for the raffle and some Prosecco for the evening.  All proceeds were donated to the Red Cross.

As you can see from the poorly focussed pictures above (and I was only on my first glass of prosecco at that point), everyone had managed to turn out a lot of things from their wardrobes, so there was plenty of rummaging to be done, with clothes and bags spread across several rooms in the house and bedrooms serving as shared changing rooms.  Some people knew each other, others didn’t, but trying on clothes together is a great way of breaking down any barriers and we were soon trying things and passing them around between us to see who they suited and fitted best.  A few glasses of Prosecco probably helped!  At the first round of trying things on I decided on a T shirt and was persuaded about a pair of jeans.  Remembering I’d been wishing I had a larger scarf to cover up with when I had caught the sun a week earlier I managed to find one of those too. Sadly, although there were lots of dresses, I didn’t find quite the one for me.

After much rummaging, chatting, drinking and trying on a few more things we congregated for the raffle – there were so many prizes this went on for a while and I eventually won a cute little manicure set.

20160513_212411

At this point in the evening the clothes rails were still bulging so, as some people were starting to leave, I suggested a second round of rummaging.  This turned up a couple of blouses, a T shirt and a necklace to add to my earlier buys.

A couple of the items did end up going straight off to the charity shop when I tried them on at home, where I am sure they got more for them than the £1 I had paid, along with a few extra items I cleared out subsequently.  In total I had spent £8 (excluding the raffle and wine) on a whole load of new things to refresh my wardrobe. And I did achieve my goal of coming home with fewer things than I had donated!

At the end of the evening I helped with the clear up and took a bag of items to the nearly new  shop in town where they earnt some additional money for the Red Cross Charity – the event raised around £350.  I would guess about 10 bin bags full of good quality leftover clothings  were also donated to a variety of charity shops around town from where they hopefully found a good new home as well as raising additional funds.

 

Dresses

Still on the hunt for a dress I popped into my local Oxfam shop and over a few weeks managed to pick up not one, but 3 lovely dresses. My wardrobe has definitely become more dress orientated over the past few years , primarily pre-loved.

The first is a Per Una dress from Marks and Spencer which cost me £6.99.  This is perfect for the office, and happens, by chance, to match perfectly the grey and green necklace I had picked up at the swishing party.

20160610_171703
Per Una Dress for work

My next purchase was a bit of an impulse buy , which I am trying to avoid. We were off out for a walk on my birthday and I spotted a lovely green cardigan in the shop window.  As I was still thinking about it when we walked back I popped in to have a look but sadly it had gone already.  As it was my birthday I had a bit of a rummage through the rails anyway and came up with this casual cotton dress from  Mistral which will be perfect for holidays.  I think this one was £7.99.

20160610_171741
Holiday Dress

I then received an invitation to a family wedding.  I wasn’t going to buy something new but having tried on a few things from my wardrobe,  nothing felt quite right, and I noticed I had put on a little weight round the thighs since a cycling injury last year  which had forced a hopefully temporary reduction in exercise. In a spare 10 mins on the way to pick son up from his town centre school I nipped into Oxfam again and found this lovely Phase Eight dress which is perfect for the occasion and also fits perfectly.  It even goes well with a grey cardigan I have already.  A top quality dress for £12.99.

20160610_171528
Phase Eight Dress for a family wedding

 

I admit to buying another unsuitable dress along the way from a local Facebook group for £4 which I donated to Oxfam along with a couple of old dresses replaced by my new items. and a gorgeous dress from Cancer Research UK’s ebay shop which didn’t fit so is on its way back to find a more suitable new home. You can also buy online from Oxfam

Together all these new items,  including the clothes swap and the items I donated straight on again, set me back less than £40. This is all I have spent on clothes since last July.

And the quest for a shirt dress?  Well I’m about to try dyeing one I have already to give it a new lease of life. Will see how that goes.

What is your favourite way of buying new clothes?