Malaysians are known for our generosity and we look out for each other as proven by #kitajagakita initiatives during the pandemic. We are a society that is not tight with our wallets – we give in cash and in-kind. However, we are also a society gripped with materialism and ever so often our cupboards are emptied of pre-loved items and given away to charity or tossed out. This is especially true for pre-loved clothes.
Textile waste landing in our landfills is increasing at an alarming rate. In 2018 alone, Malaysians dumped a record of 195,300 tonnes of textile waste and this rate has increased from 2.8% to 6.3% in 2018. This makes textile waste, the second largest polluter in Malaysia, next to the oil and gas industry.
If clothes are not tossed out, they are given away. However, not all clothes donations are well received. A volunteer during the recent #daruratbanjir lamented over the inappropriate donation to the centre she was volunteering at:
Don’t talk about unsorted clothes. There was even the base of a Christmas tree. We, volunteers, are already overloaded with sorting the clothes. Now we have to also throw away the rubbish that some people bring. – Mollie, a volunteer during #daruratbanjir in Gurdwara Shah Alam
But this issue isn’t just isolated during natural disaster crises. An attempt to create awareness and cultivate a society that sends their pre-loved items to easily available collection bins has turned sour. The allocated bins previously have been misused and became a rubbish dump for domestic waste.
We talked to three charity organisations; BLESS Shop, Salvation Army Malaysia and Tzu Chi Foundation that accept pre-loved items and found out more about the goods they receive and the culture of giving.
Lockdowns And Spring Cleaning
Notably, pre-pandemic, higher volumes of used clothing discarded by the general public during year-end and right before Chinese New Year as shared by Lewis Voon, General Manager of Red Shield Industries Malaysia and Jee Say Loo, an active volunteer at Tzu Chi Foundation.
Our peak seasons are usually during the year-end and Chinese New Year, when most people spring-clean their homes – Lewis Voon, General Manager Of Red Shield Industries Malaysia
Just before New Year, we would receive plenty of old clothes, books, and all sorts of household decorative items. – Jee Say Loo, a volunteer at Tzu Chi Foundation
However, during the pandemic and the multiple cycles of lockdowns we have gone through, there was a rise in used clothing collected.
We noticed there was an increase of enquiries from people just before the implementation of each of the Movement Control Orders (MCOs), and also after each of the MCOs as they were expats wanting to give away their belongings before they move back to their respective countries. There was also an increase in donations after the MCO from people who were either downsizing, moving out or were left with personal belongings of departed loved ones. -Lewis Voon, General Manager Of Red Shield Industries Malaysia
Another organisation that accepts different kinds of recycling through their centres, Tzu Chi found that with offices and restaurants being closed down, there was more furniture being donated to their centres.
There was an increase right after post–lockdowns for all sorts of things that can be reused as pre-loved items such as electrical items, books and old clothes. There are also offices, restaurants closed down during this period and they have quite a number of furniture, utensils, office equipment and they wished to channel their old items to Tzu Chi. – Jee Say Loo, a volunteer at Tzu Chi Foundation
Not All Donations Were In Good Condition
At times, the donations received from the general public were in a less satisfactory condition.
BLESS Shop shared that at least 60% of the items they have received were in conditions unsuited for reselling. The Salvation Army also found that some are dumping their paper and plastic items due to the lack of awareness of their organisation’s work.
Sometimes we also receive paper and plastic items from people, thinking we have recycling facilities. We do not have those facilities.– Lewis Voon, General Manager Of Red Shield Industries Malaysia
When the items are in an unusable state, charity organisations would have to send them to other organisations to be recycled or repaired.
In instances when we receive unusable items, we will sell them to our contacts who can accept damaged goods and can recycle items such as paper, plastic and fabric. – Lewis Voon, General Manager Of Red Shield Industries Malaysia
Tzu Chi, on the other hand, which accepts recycling items such as paper and plastic, would immediately channel it to the recycling centres. Even so, often the pre-loved items they have received are in an unusable state.
We do receive many old electrical appliances but we generally take them as recycled materials as the conditions are not as reliable. We have also received items that are not in good condition, showing that sometimes donors are simply clearing out their unusable items. When it comes to furniture, as it is harder to be recycled, we usually ask our members if there are any takers before proceeding with recycling. – Jee Say Loo volunteer at Tzu Chi Foundation
Excess Of Items Is Never A Good Thing
During the peak season, the donations that pour in are exponential. However, the organisations have formulated ways to ensure that the items are circulated and used by deserving communities.
Yes, sometimes there is an oversupply of certain pre-loved items. On this occasion, we donate to other organisations when they need it for fundraising or during festive seasons. – Tina Chong, Senior Operations Manager
The Salvation Army, with the donations they have gathered over time, managed to mobilise immediately during times of crisis.
An example is the recent December 2021 flood, where we were able to mobilise clothing, household items and brand new 350 units of mattresses to affected families in Taman Sri Muda in Shah Alam, Jalan Ipoh in KL, Dengkil in Selangor and even Mentakab, Pahang. -Lewis Voon, General Manager Of Red Shield Industries Malaysia
Tzu Chi Foundation received plenty of clothes, household decoration items and books that would be donated to them, often right before a new year.
In most of Tzu Chi Recycling centres, we have a special corner displaying the preloved items to expand the lifespan of the products, maximise the value and ensure that those who are in need can acquire them. – Jee Say Loo, volunteer at Tzu Chi Foundation
And, to be able to accommodate and ensure the items are being circulated especially books, they have established a social media platform, TC Book Adoption Garden.
In order to ensure we maximise the value of the books donated to us, we established a platform through FB, TC Book Adoption Garden for book lovers; where they can acquire the books at a small token so that the books don’t go to waste as recycled materials. – Jee Say Loo, volunteer at Tzu Chi Foundation
At the same time, organisations have gone a step further and provided job opportunities for the underserved communities through their social enterprises.
BLESS Shop hires single mothers, Orang Asli and refugees and even ex-drug rehab patients to be part of their team. And Salvation Army enables the mothers to sell their items such as clothing to become self-sufficient.
Salvation Army’s social enterprise arm, Red Shield Industries Malaysia operates to collect and sell preloved items at seven locations nationwide. The organisation also runs The Salvation Army Family Thrift Stores in Subang Jaya, Melaka, Ipoh, Penang and Kuching. The pre-loved items in their store stock would be circulated between the different locations, to ensure each shop sells a variety of goods.
With different methods of distributing their received goods, the organisations are ensuring donated items meet their new owners as soon as possible.
Consider Before Giving
Thrift shopping or also known as bundle shopping at bundle stores isn’t a recent uncommon phenomenon in Malaysia. They have always been around in secluded places and treated with preconceived stigma. However, the younger generation, Generation Z and millennials, have jumped on the bandwagon and have made this rather niche market to be at the forefront.
With the greater interest sparked amongst the community, Salvation Army also commented that “sometimes donors are just simply eager to dispose of certain items without thinking if buyers or even beneficiaries can benefit from those items.” One of the key questions a donor should consider before dropping their used items would be:
We would really appreciate it if they could ask themselves this question: “Would I want to buy this item if I see it at a second-hand/charity/thrift shop? -Lewis Voon, General Manager Of Red Shield Industries Malaysia
Tina Chong, Senior Operations Manager at BLESS Shop and Jee Say Loo, a volunteer from Tzu Chi have provided simple rules that donors should take heed of before dropping their items at the nearest charity shops.
- The items must be in clean and good condition to be sold without being repaired.
- Clothing should have not been stained, torn or discoloured.
- Shoes/handbags/accessories must be in “one-piece”.
- For electrical goods and furniture, it should be in good working condition.
- If the centre has a recycling facility, separate your items into pre-loved items and items for recycling.
It is also important to take note of whether the organisation has different procedures when it comes to heavy items such as furniture and large appliances. The Salvation Army suggested the members of the public book a collection service via their readily available platforms:
WhatsApp: 011 6292 1078
Tel: 03 80811046
Email: donate4malaysia@SMM.salvationarmy.org with a brief description of the items you wish to donate, your collection address and contact number
The awareness in the community and the increasing grassroots organisations that are giving second life to used items is admirable. Even so, there is a handful of us who donate without deliberating twice. Be mindful of your donations through the simple steps provided by charity organisations.
Other than Salvation Army, BLESS shop and Tzu Chi Foundation there is a list of organisations out there receiving different preloved items such as Kloth Lifestyle, Kechara Soup Kitchen and Community Recycle For Charity (CRC Box). If you are in the midst of impromptu spring cleaning and have a stack of various pre-loved items that are in need of a new home, find out specific organisations that could help you here.