Recycling clothes in Florence

Charity shops and collection points

Jane Farrell
September 4, 2019 - 10:41

When you fall out of love with a jumper, what do you do? Hide it in the back of your wardrobe, doomed to never see the light of day again, a feast for the moths; or simply just throw it away? Why not do something meaningful instead? Donating clothes to charity shops is worth the few minutes it takes to bag up old clothes and take them to places like Progetto Arcobaleno’s two used-clothes shops on via del Leone and via Palazzuolo.



Outside Progetto Arcobaleno




But before we go into why and where, let’s look at what. Textiles are one of the biggest causes of damage to the environment. Synthetic fibre production involves non-renewable resources and natural yarn production necessitates the use of massive quantities of water and pesticides. It may feel like adding to that waste is inevitable, but one way to reduce the harm is to buy clothes that are in perfectly good condition and that can be passed from one pair of hands to another.




Progetto Arcobaleno shop in via del Leone




Given that the past few months have been saldi (sales) season, many of us have indulged in some discounted purchases with more regard to the percentage saved as opposed to considering the environment. It’s time to redress the balance. Assosistema, an association that represents, among other things, companies that provide sterilization services for the textile industry, states that recycling second-hand clothes could cut textile environmental impact on global warming by 53 per cent. It could also reduce pollution caused by the textile industry by 45 per cent and decrease water eutrophication caused by nitrate and phosphate excess in water flows by 95 per cent. Shocked? I was too.

So, The Florentine went to Progetto Arcobaleno to see how donating clothes can lead to something positive for others, as well as the world we live in.




Progetto Arcobaleno shop in via del Leone




The non-profit Associazione Progetto Arcobaleno has been supporting those in need and assisting people in their journey towards independence since 1985. The via del Leone building was donated by nuns in the adjoining former convent and created as a centre to embrace people of different cultures, resources, opportunities and needs. The rainbow cited in the association’s name highlights the diversity of our individual paths in life. The elderly, the homeless and the unemployed, those who are disabled or who lack family support, people suffering from alcoholism or mental illness can use the centre’s services as long as they have been shortlisted by the Polo delle Marginalità, a social services team managed by the City of Florence. A dedicated team of just four people run the San Frediano-based day centre, with five volunteers manning the night shift to ensure that the centre is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.



One of the programme’s aims is to teach Italian to those who have recently arrived in the country in order to encourage integration—the school is operated by about 40 volunteer teachers and has over 300 students. Legal advice is given by a group of pro bono lawyers, medications are donated by a couple of local pharmacies and there’s even a small residential centre on via del Leone, offering food and shelter. The second-hand clothes shops, run entirely by volunteers, fund these various activities, lending a helping hand to those in need. Waste is never part of the equation as everything in the shop is reused, including packaging. Clothes that go unsold are sent to a charitable centre in northern Italy, continuing the cycle of goodwill.



The unassuming entrance leads to a veritable Aladdin’s cave. Glistening glassware, plump stuffed bears, crates of toy cars, rows of blazers and designer shoes have your eyes roving with interest. Look upwards too as objects are suspended from the ceiling with inflatable toys waving down at you. A few curious tourists wandered in and out while we were in the shop, as well as youngsters thrilled to find a pair of vintage shoes for a few euro.




Progetto Arcobaleno shop in via del Leone




Most poignantly, a loyal Florentine customer stopped by, eager to share her passion for what Progetto Arcobaleno does. “I’ve been coming here since they opened. It’s always clean, organised and full of useful bits. I got things for my children here, and even a pram for my grandchild.”


The local volunteer was justifiably proud of what is accomplished by the association, speaking about the many regular customers and how appreciative she was to be part of such a worthwhile endeavour. Moved by the emotions of both customer and volunteer, we left Progetto Arcobaleno with our hands filled with purchases and our hearts brimming with gratitude and admiration for those who dedicate their time to others.



Next time you glance guiltily at your wardrobe heaving with clothes, you know what to do:

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