Used clothes collected for charity in China recycling project sold overseas for profit

BEIJING - Residents of a district in Qingdao have been donating their used clothing to charities by depositing them at recycling bins in their neighbourhoods.

Or so they thought.

It was discovered recently that their donated clothes were exported to Africa instead, where huge profits were made, China's state-run Global Times newspaper reported.

The discovery was made by Qingdao Television, which had gone undercover to film part of the process.

In the video clip, reporters from the TV station followed a truck that collected used clothing from recycling bins in the district of Licang. The items were then transported to a warehouse, Global Times reported.

The clothes were washed and sterilised and then sent to a factory in a local village. There, workers would process the items further for sale.

For example, zippers were stripped off clothes and sold at 20 yuan (S$4) per kilogram, said one of the workers, according to Global Times. Items that were still in good condition would be exported to Africa, the worker told the reporters.

The video clip has since gone viral online, sparking public outcry, Global Times reported.

Recycling used clothing became popular after the government of Qingdao, a coastal city in east China's Shandong Province, launched a programme to recycle unwanted clothes, which China Daily reported about in December 2015.

Local residents welcomed the programme as it gave them an avenue to get rid of unwanted clothes and declutter their home.

What appealed to them even more was the idea that they were doing their part to protect the environment against wastage as well as chipping in to help those in need.

Clothes collected from the recycling bins were sorted, washed, sterilised and then donated to charity organisations, according to the 2015 China Daily report.

The recent expose by Qingdao Television, however, has angered not only local residents but also people from across China.

Many said they are not against the sale of used clothes, but they firmly condemn those who make profit in the name of charity, according to Global Times. They called for stricter checks on those who are engaged in the business of recycling.

In China, used clothing can be legally exported to some countries, such as Africa, for donation and reuse, Global Times reported.

When the recycling programme for old clothes was first launched in Qingdao, residents were supportive. The bins were always full, they said in the 2015 report in China Daily.

But what one resident said in that report proved to be prescient.

"The recycling idea is great, but only if...the old clothes they gather are distributed to those who are in real need, such as residents in the poor areas," said a Mr Zhang Long'er, quoted by China Daily.

Going by what Qingdao Television has uncovered, that concern was certainly not unfounded.