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Session 4

How does a shirt you've stopped wearing end up in a completely different country? We follow the journey your clothes make, and practise using active and passive sentences to describe a process.

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    Activity 1

Activity 1

Where do your old clothes go?

The global second-hand garment trade

What do you do with clothes you no longer want? Do you throw them in the bin - or do you give them to charities? Perhaps you recycle them?

In the UK, over half of all unwanted clothes are recycled or given to charities, according to research. But did you know that many of these clothes end up being transported and sold abroad, as part of the £2.8bn global trade in second-hand clothes?

In this video, we look at the journeys these clothes make. We'll see lots of active and passive constructions. There's also a lot of new vocabulary, so have a look in the vocabulary box for help with new words.

To do

Watch the video and answer this question: Where do unwanted clothes from the UK finally end up?

Watch the video and complete the activity

Show transcript Hide transcript

The journey of your old clothes

Charities collect clothing...

either at charity shops...

through textile banks...

or door to door collections.

Clothes not retailed in shops are sold to textile merchants.

These merchants collect the unwanted clothes...

and take them to a sorting plant.

Garments are sorted by quality and type...

and put into bales.

Bales are put into a shipping container or lorry.

The container heads overseas to the recipient country.

Bales head to local markets or shops... ready for a fresh life with new owners.


The unwanted clothes end up in local markets and shops in the recipient country.

To do

First, watch the video again. Then try this comprehension quiz to practise the vocabulary from this session as well as your understanding of active and passive sentences.

Clothes questions

8 Questions

Answer these questions about the video. Check the vocabulary reference if you need help, and you can also look at the transcript.

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Over to you

So that's what happens to unwanted clothes in the UK. To find out more, have a look at the original BBC story that this session is based on.

What about your country? What happens to clothes that nobody wants where you are? Perhaps you recycle your old clothes or give them to charity - or do you keep them for ever and ever?

Try to use a mixture of active and passive sentences, and some of the vocabulary from this unit.

Thank you for emailing your comments to us. We enjoyed reading them. This task is now closed.

Here are some of the comments that we received:

Manuel Ángel, Spain

Well, it really depends on every home, but we use to give them to merchants or charities directly. Here they make their recollection declaring what they are going to do with them. Of course I'd like to reach people who need them.

Sometimes, I use to pull my wife's and children's leg when they say they're gonna use them in the future. I know I'll be too old to see it.

Sheetal, India

In India, People get rid of unwanted or old clothes by couple of ways. some of these are as below:

1. We give old clothes to the needy people, charity, servants, etc.

2. We also use such clothes for household work like in cleaning ans washing.

3. Sometimes these are thrown in the bin.

4. Some people sell these clothes in exchange of useful things to the people who are involved in such activities.

5. People sell their clothes online too if these are in good condition and belong to a well known brand.

6. In above condition, these wearable clothes also can be exchanged with new garments if the store of that particular brand announces this facility

7. Lastly, of course, few clothes are kept ever and ever as mentioned already in the site as a pert of memories.

Nadia, France

In France, unwanted clothes end up in charity shops like Emmaius or in second-hand trade.

I noticed that Emmaius shops are mainly located in cities and not in the countrysides.

Same thing than in the UK, there are also textile banks.

Sometimes I recycle my clothes to make dolls in textile or to decorate boxes of tidying or frames.

Off and on I get rit it in textile banks.

There are people who like keeping clothes in souvenirs but so far, I'm not in this scheme.

Ewa, Poland

In my country unwanted garments are collected in many ways: directly from the door, through charity organisations, through textile banks. I prefer the last way of clothes collection because it creates workplace for many people.

There are also another way to get rid of your old clothes: you can swap them with another person at exchange events. Et in the end you are the recipient of something new and some your clothes are given to somebody else. This sort of swap seems to be very ecological and economical enough.

Lineda, France

In my country I can get rid of unwanted clothes one way or another.

Twice a year Charities send big bags, people put their old clothes and the bags are collected by the organisation few days later.

I also recycle them as I do with the paper, the glass bottles in large recycled bins.

I also give my clothes in good condition to my relatives such as my cousins my best friends.

Instead of keeping them in our wardrobes I sort out them once or twice a year in order to make room and to buy others clothes to be fashionably dressed.

Robson, Brazil

In my country people donate unwanted clothes for charities, like in UK.

Charities are controlled by churches and nonprofits that are responsible for organizing the donated and choosing poor families that will receive them.

This job is so importante because in Brazil there are a lot of poor families with little child that needs old clothes, especially in the winter season. 

Ngọc Linh

My mother told me that when I was under the age of one month old, I wore second hand clothes that had been used for another healthy infant. People believed that using those clothes would help scare away ghosts from babies, so they could grow up faster and healthier. Another reason might be scarcity. These days, parents don't do that any more because the standard of living has been improved. They can afford to buy new garments for their baby. My mom is not a cheapskate but she does use old clothes instead of buying new rugs or hand-wipes. I don't like her to do this because it makes my house look like a mess. Sometimes, I give my unwanted clothes to charities, but if they are souvenirs, I never throw them away.

Juan Carlos, Colombia

Well, in my country the unwanted clothes have different uses. the most important is the recycle. This task is executed by humble people that try to win a bit of money with the sales of those articles. They  walk for the different streets of my city and try to collect the garments in good state door by door or sometimes they have to  pass before the garbage lorry arrives, when is garbage collection day.

They sometimes change this clothes by other things (this action is known as barter).

When nobody passes to collect the second-hand clothes some churches make charity campaigns for the poor people of community.

In my country we have too stores that imported second-hand clothes to retail. I think that some clothes could  be yours.


Description of what happens to unwanted clothes in my country: 

There are non-profit associations that make agreements with municipalities for the installation containers in cities. After that the clothes may take different paths:

The materials are sent to their recycling centers and classified according to their characteristics. From there, they can follow three paths: sold in stores, sent for recycling or landfilled.

Francisco, Spain

Here, in some cities you can find containers where you can throw your old clothes whilst in the villages old clothes are  collected door to door by retailers. They stick a note  in your front door announcing the day they will pick up the bags with your old clothes.

In addition old clothes are usually given to charities by people who want to give help to other needy people.

Finally you can keep some of your old clothes and wear them for house painting jobs, gardening, tiding up stuff, etc.

Truong Uyên, Vietnam

In my country, Vietnam, volunteers are a people who collect old clothes (they are studying in university and join a organization which is call HoChiMinh Communist Youth Union).

After collect clothes from many source like: family, university, school (1st, secondary, high school)... They start to sort the garments by quality and type. Then they will go to the SOS-Kinderdorf, pagoda and many place where its have orphan kids and give it to them. 


The best way to have no problem with unwanted clothes is to buy only garments you are really need. My children have a lot of clothing and they grow up very quickly. So I pack their small clothes and give them to a friend of mine. She works as a volunteer in a charities and she take clothing, toys, footwear to orphan children and to families who have many children and are short of money. Charity hasn't any sorting plants at all. Clothing is sorting by some volunteers in my friend's garage or in someone's shed. I must say, they deliver garments to recipients all by themselves. Clothing isn't recycled in my country.

There are some second-hand shops in my town. Garments from the UK and Europe are retailed there. But Russian and Chinese unwanted clothes aren't taken for sales. They say they are in no condition to sell and wear these clothing again. I know some people, who can spend loads of money to buy clothing in mass-market shops. But they prefer buying second-hand ones from abroad. They suggest, that garments, which were shipped overseas, have better quality and more practical.   

Mario, Italy

In Italy, around the streets, there are big white containers where you can put your no longer used clothes in. As second-hand clothes make up a lucrative business, sometimes these containers either fall prey to thieves or are run by company linked to criminal organisations. If you want to be sure that your old clothes are delivered to people in need, a good alternative is to take them to the neighbourhood church. Fortunately, in Italy we have as many churches as white containers.

Taras, Ukraine

I don't know what happens to unwanted clothes in my country. Maybe someone sells on market, gives for charities and so on. But I think that our country likely is a recipient country 'cause here many people buy clothes which were brought from wealthier countries at second-hand shops. To buy new garments expensively here and often second-hand clothing have a better quality than new ones and their cost is significantly lower. Sometimes may buy almost for nothing brand things.

Manuel Juan, Spain

In the last decades people get much more clothes than years ago. It seems to be true we are installed in the consumerism era, at least in the Western world or Occident. Consumers are extended all over the developed world.

It would be difficult to keep such an amount of garment at home being the dwellings small as they usually are. So people give the unwanted clothes to charities or recycle them when they are modified into a new style or fashion.

This second option is extended by crisis' periods which may be a positive aspect if consumerism is reduced significantly.

Marie, Quebec, Canada

With friends, we organize an "ladies' night". Our garments are exchanged  for free of charge. What is unwanted can be desired by another. Of course, we have to be on the same size. Also, nice fabrics are picked up to be remodeled by myself. I like to sew and transform textile into a second life. Creation is very good against mental illness. Unwanted clothes at the end of the party are donated to a local Charity what helps people in our city. For a dollar or two, they can be dressed properly and be proud. My best friend's father is in charge of this organization for years. Helping people makes him very busy and happy.

Angelika, Germany

What happens to unwanted cloth in Germany?

Generally we have the same procedure as in the UK. Cloth that someone wants to get rid of can be put into textile banks on the streets or you leave the unwanted garments in the hands of collectors.

Our citizens are being informed by companies or charity organizations about the dates of collections in advance and where the cloth will get collected.

But children's cloth is often exchanged by young parents on especially organized events. So they come together and do not only exchange their children's cloth but also experience where special clothing can be bought for little money. 

Such kind of "reuse" is very common and I appreciate it. That is a way to avoid profit for merchants overseas. Young parents as well as their children here in our region get advantage of this useful habit. The sellers and the recipients meet each other and sometimes they become even friends.

Franco, Argentina

In Argentina,  the clothes that is not use, the people give at the church for the poor peoples and the homeless. anybody throw to garbage. In the church, the clothes is sorts by types and quality similar to England. this clothes is takes to other provinces in special to Argentine northerm for example Salta and Jujuy provinces.

Dzung, Vietnam

Well, talk about unwanted clothes. 

Most of citizen have many unwanted clothes. 

Some try to sell it on the internet through facebook, twitter, webs...

They'll get some money to buy new clothes or other favourite things.

Another gather unwanted clothes to poverty people. They often congregate together in a similar place to package its into bales and put its on the car or truck and drive to the poor areas. They'll distribute them to the poor children and their family. Students and other kindhearted people will collect unwanted clothes from people who don't use it any more.

Many people have unwanted clothes but they don't know how to do with it. They don't want to keep it any more. In other hand, they have no idea about charities address or phone numbers to contract to them collect it.

There're also some people who will keep unwanted clothes for ever and ever. I thought they don't want to share it to other. And maybe they have their reason to do it.

Yoko, Japan

Few years ago, one book become a best seller which explain how to get away unwanted goods.In that books, we are not happy when we live with unwanted goods, so we have to get away them as soon as possible with feeling of thanks. There are a few recycle shop in Japan, so maybe many Japanese do away with clothes to dust box.

TJ, Taiwan

Most of my old clothes are put into textile banks because they are near my home, and it's more convenient than carry them to other places.

But I really don't know the process proceed or how do they transfer. I never concern or pay attention to it.

Besides this way, some of my garments that I can't wear anymore are given for my relatives.

It's a good way to save money because children are growing quickly.

The last I use unwanted clothes as wiper.

When they become this, they should be dirty or has patches that can't give to anyone.

Geneviève, France

Last month, I decided to sort my clothes. It was very difficult because I have a problem in supressing something: each cloth seemed me still useful. At the end I put a little garment in a bag and carried them to a textile bank. It's the same travel from France for the old clothes that in England. But I saw on TV that a lot of these clothes arriving in the recipient country aren't  usable so they are rotting there after a very long way. I had been very disapointed with that information.

Manoel Gomes, Brazil

In my country, we usually give the old clothes to charity. Or, sometimes we organise a bazaar to sell them. Many people enjoy going to a bazaar because we can find very cheap good garments.  

End of Session 4

That's all for this unit. We hope you enjoyed learning about the journeys that old clothes make. In Session 5 we're going back to Victorian England again for part 2 of our drama The Importance of Being Earnest. This time, we learn the secret behind Ernest's identity, and there is a marriage proposal!

Session Vocabulary

  • charities
    organisations that help people by providing food, money or other things that they need


    charity shops
    shops that sell things, often second-hand things, to make money for charities

    material made by people

    textile banks
    places where textiles are stored


    sorting plant
    place where things are organised


    large amounts of things that are tied together

    shipping container
    large metal box used for carrying goods on ships and lorries

    abroad, across the sea

    someone or something which receives something

    (here) go, travel