Are Indians guilty of SWEDOW charity?

Are Indians guilty of ‘SWEDOW charity’?

SWEDOW? Is it a UN body? The name of a vaccine? Nope. It stands for ‘Stuff We Don’t Want’. SWEDOW was coined after well-intentioned donors in Western countries were accused of dumping their spare stuff on developing countries. Very often, cheap goods combined with reckless shopping habits leaves people with a glut of items they bought but have no use for. The piles grow bigger, and people turn to charities to get rid of them.

Are Indians guilty of SWEDOW as well? Here’s our take:

Well not really…

Indians are definitely thrifty, and we don’t like to waste things – whether it’s food on our plates or unused clothes. Many of us probably grew up wearing our siblings’ clothes, or had altered school uniforms to avoid buying a new one. Appliances were repeatedly repaired, and even slippers were fixed till they could not be used again. The net result is that we consumed less, and extracted more use from the things we did buy. However, when it comes to charity, some people donate items in really poor condition because they believe that for a poor person it’s better than nothing. NGOs end up with clothes that have blood or other stains on them or even food or medicines past their expiry date. It’s great that we don’t discard stuff quickly and get a lot of use out of our things. However, if you’re donating old clothes – it’s good to hold back a little if the material is in really bad shape. Think about whether another person would feel like wearing those clothes at all. Those in need have dignity too, and clothes with stains and holes will not last them long anyway.

But on the other hand..

As consumerism increases in India, more people are buying things they may never use. Unlike the days gone by, these are bought and discarded as soon as they stop being in vogue. A lot of this stuff ends up as donations to charity too. Some items – like children’s clothes, bedsheets, rainwear, schoolbags – will always be in demand. However, a lot of impulse purchases – Western clothing, shoes, makeup, cutlery, plastic, sachets – will have limited reuse value for someone living on the street.

Here’s what you can do:

Don’t buy more stuff! – Unless you need it. We can control how much we consume, and the number of goods that enter our lives. Buying a new phone each year is a great feeling, but it will add to the world’s waste management crisis. 80% of a phone’s materials is recyclable, but how much of it actually finds its way to a recycling centre? Even if you do give your old phone to a family member to use, that’s still one extra phone in use that could have been avoided. The same goes for electronics and clothes. A shirt or book may be cheap in price, but it has an environmental footprint of its own. From the time it was produced, packaged, shipped, stored, sold and discarded, it is consuming units of energy and often releasing pollutants in the process. Think of the hours of air conditioning used in malls, the vast distances that delivery trucks travel, miles travelled by waste workers who collect used cartons and packaging waste. If you’re shopping as an adult, it’s better (and easier!) to rationalize your buying in the first place. Try and club online orders where possible, shop at stores near to your location and use what you’ve bought to the fullest. The less ‘SWEDOW’ you have, the better!


If you’d like to donate used items, try these NGOs. They will make sure it is sent to someone who can use it



Toys: Toybank. Toybank collects old toys and uses it in their programmes with children. If you have games in good condition (not too many pieces/cards/tags etc missing) reach out to them. Your toys will have a good second life.


Old clothes: Goonj.. has drop off points all over the country. They work with communities in need by having them donate labour to create assets like bridges, roads, walls and wells. After the work is complete, they are given sets of clothes in exchange for their labour. This way, the communities have earned the clothes they receive, and have dignity even while they are receiving the clothes. They are not free handouts any more.

Books: Try Ratna Nidhi Charitable Trust in Mumbai, whose Mission Million Books aims to distribute 1 million educational books to 10,000 educational institutes across the country. Another great alternative is to sponsor a library or a few books through Pratham Books. These books are in over 20 Indian languages, so a school will receive children’s books in a language the child is comfortable in. This is very important, as often children are unable to read the books that have been donated to them.

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