Columns

Donating clothes may be easier than washing 2016.08.03

By RICH FOLEY

I didn’t realize that dealing with dirty clothes was such a big problem until reading a few recent news articles. Obviously, the laundry process uses up a fair amount of time for those unable to afford to send everything to the dry cleaners—I’m sure that includes most of us—but I’m surprised by those who get extremely annoyed by the process.

Take the caps of laundry detergent containers, for example. The Washington Post recently ran an in-depth article explaining why said caps are, in their words, “Stuck in the past.” Apparently, most folks are unsure how much detergent to use, especially when it comes to liquid detergent, which makes up 75 percent of a nearly $7 billion a year industry in the U. S. alone.

A couple billion or so of that total may be from consumers using more detergent than they need to because of poorly marked container caps and confusing instructions. Folks who aren’t sure how much detergent to use usually err on the side of too much.

Liquid detergent has been around for 30 years now, but no company seems to want to provide a cap that’s clearly marked with instructions that are easy to understand. Just think how much sales could dip if they did.

Then there’s what the Wall Street Journal calls “the most frustrating chore,” folding the laundry. The article even comes with directions and schematics on how to fold a shirt. Companies would love to perfect a machine to handle the chore. A General Electric executive says her engineers tell her the solution for the problem is a butler. Some of us have other ideas.

I fold towels and attempt to fold sheets, but that’s about the extent of it. Shirts and pants go on hangers. Socks and underwear go in separate piles in a drawer to be taken out as needed. It may sound like I’m lazy, but for once, I have experts on my side.

A professional household organizer interviewed for the article said not to bother folding underwear “since it doesn’t matter if it gets wrinkled.”  As for socks, she said to buy a dozen pairs or so of the same color and just grab two from the pile when a pair is needed. I was doing that already and figured it out without having to pay an organizer. Yea, me!

Another consultant suggests laundry chairs or couches for homes with children. Since they will probably dig through clothes drawers and ruin your carefully folded stacks of clothes, save time by piling their clothes on a chair. Use a couch with separate piles for each child if there are two or more.

Panasonic hopes to introduce a folding machine next year. The device is roughly the size of a refrigerator and will take several hours to fold a load of laundry. It’s estimated the average person will spend 375 days folding laundry over their lifetime. It sounds like they’d waste even more waiting on the machine to do it for them.

A better solution might be what some people in India think we do anyway, that is, give away our clothes when they get dirty.

Another Journal article explains what happens to the clothes that are deposited in those donation boxes that seem to be everywhere these days. First, the charities sell the collected donations to middlemen, who compress them into 800-pound bales for shipment to India. Upon arrival at the Indian port of Kandla, entrepreneurs pay for the right to search the bales for valuables that may have been left in the donations.

Searchers find money, watches, jewelry and more, at least enough to justify paying to look. Once, a handgun was discovered. Then, sorters take over, dividing the donations into about 200 categories for resale.

Companies train sorters to look for designer brands, vintage blue jeans and other high dollar items. Torn or stained clothes are turned into rags with zippers and buttons saved for resale. The same fate awaits pants with a waist exceeding 40 inches (32 for women) as there is no market for larger sizes in Africa where most donations end up.

Some workers on the sorting line think fashion in the U.S. changes so often that people wear something once and give it away. Others think the donations belonged to dead people or hold the theory that we have such a water shortage it’s cheaper to buy new clothes. I guess the idea that we’re just too lazy to fold never occurred to them.