Thu October 13, 2011

A Second Life for Unwanted Clothing

Article by Mattias Wallander, CEO, USAgain
Originally published in the Washington State Recycling Association's October-December 2011 Newsletter

Innocuous as clothing might seem compared with the well-documented evils of plastic shopping bags or Styrofoam cups, textile waste is also an environmental nightmare when simply "thrown away". Given our country's shopping crazed culture, discarded clothing is clogging up our dwindling landfills at an alarming rate. Even Washington State, with our penchant for eco-consciousness, is no exception to this unfortunate trend. 

According to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, Americans generate 12.7 million tons of textile waste each year, of which only 15% is collected for reuse and recycling. The remaining 10.8 million tons go to landfills, representing approximately 6.3% of municipal solid waste. 

Yet, unlike recycling plastic, glass and aluminum - taken for granted as a part of our daily life - there is a lack of knowledge about the options for recycling textiles. 

The best way to "recycle" clothing is to direct it to the established reuse channels - including vintage stores, thrift shops, coat drives, yard sales, etc. Charities and businesses all over the world collect used clothing to be resold or donated. In fact, many people don't realize that used clothing represents a massive global market, with over 70 percent of the world's population relying on used clothing. Your giveaway "dad jeans" might end up for sale in a village market in Guatemala or Nigeria, helping local commerce while reducing the burden on American landfills. 

In addition, some companies like USAgain, with a Washington divison based in Auburn, use well-placed collection bins to offer a simple and convenient option for getting rid of unwanted clothing. USAgain's green and white bins are placed in various locations throughout the northwest, from Everett to Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah, Enumclaw, Tacoma, Olympia.... even Sequim and Aberdeen. 

Usable goods are resold to thrift stores and wholesalers. Our experience tells us that if we make textile recycling as convenient as possible, people will happily take advantage of the option. In 2010 alone, USAgain diverted 56 million pounds of clothing from landfills across 15 states. Clothing companies like GAP are joining this trend by encouraging customers to donate used clothing and New York City is considering a proposal to provide textile recycling bins throughout the metro-area. 

Such initiatives are promising and provide hope that ongoing education and infrastructure development will help move consumer habits toward sustainability with ALL recyclable material. Who knows- with the right awareness, a used Seahawks jersey might just become the latest (unexpected) symbol of consumers doing their part for the environment. 

USAgain (use-again) was founded in 1999, and now operates over 10,000 collection bins in 15 states. Our mission at USAgain is simple: to provide consumers with a convenient and eco-friendly option to rid themselves of excess clothing, which we divert from wasting in landfills for resale in the US and abroad. In 2010 alone, the company collected 56 million pounds of discarded clothing. A profitable venture headquartered in Chicago, USAgain has over 200 employees. For more information, visit