Mon July 19, 2010
Recycler collects & resells used clothing for profit
By: Mariana Silva
USAgain does for textiles what most recyclers do for paper, plastic and aluminum: collect what people deposit in recycle bins and sell it for a profit.
“We [think] recycling clothing is something good for the environment, good for the people who end up using the clothes, but in a way is no different than recycling paper, or plastic or aluminum,” said Mattias Wallander, CEO of USAgain. “If those materials can be recycled by for-profit companies, we thought we could also have a for-profit company recycling clothing.”
USAgain, pronounced “use again,” placed its first collection bin in Seattle in 1999 when it was founded by Janice Bostic, now the president. Wallander, CEO since 2001, joined the company in 2000, when it expanded to Chicago and Atlanta. Today, USAgain employs 150 people in the U.S., has more than 8,000 bins in 14 states and 10 metropolitan areas, and has plans to expand nationwide.
“People simply don’t realize how much is out there, what a great need it is and how easy it is to do,” said Bostic about textiles recycling.
But, the company’s for-profit orientation, a growing practice among textile recyclers — which doesn’t provide donors with tax-return options — has been criticized by municipalities, organizations and individuals, who believe their donations shouldn’t help companies to profit. They also believe the company should not send part of what it collects out of the country to be resold.
“Just as your collectors of cardboard, aluminum and paper, they are all for profit entities, we see clothing as needed item that needs to be recycled more,” Bostic said.
Wallander said the for-profit option allows the company to expand the idea of clothing recycling, and overcome lack of convenience barriers, which often prevent people from recycling more.
Wearable Clothing based in New York, and Merchandise Pick Up Service in Missouri are two other companies in the U.S. guided by a for-profit clothing recycling option.
Wallander said by being for-profit, USAgain can provide donors with more, conveniently placed collection bins where they can deposit their donations, and can be more efficient in the collection of textiles, according to need, avoiding overflowing bins and material that is left on the ground for days where it can be damaged. He added some of the bins have to be emptied daily and that only 5% of what is collected becomes waste.
In exchange for letting USAgain place its bins in their properties, site sponsors — convenience stores, supermarkets, schools and churches, among other institutions or organizations — receive a per pound collected “rent” from USAgain, $.02 per pound, which they can keep or donate to a charity of choice.
USAgain sells the collected textiles to three main distinct markets. Wholesalers, thrift stores and grading facilities, separate the material and either sell it to final users, or sort and redistribute it for resale in other locations in the U.S., Central America, Europe, Asia and South America, where people can purchase used clothes for a fraction of what new ones would cost.
Wallander said dealing with a low cost commodity, such as used clothes and shoes, benefits people who need clothes, as well as people with an entrepreneurial spirit in “poorer countries,” who can generate income by buying textiles in bulk and selling them piece by piece.
“We are different in a way that, this is all we do,” Wallander said. “We don’t run thrift stores. We collect clothing and this gives us the opportunity to really perfect our systems and deliver a recycling solution that addresses all the needs of the public.”