Local Company Promotes Textile Recycling | My Suburban Life

Fri February 18, 2011

My Suburban Life

Bartlett, IL — While it’s fairly common to recycle cans, paper and bottles, one local company is working to add textiles to the list.

West Chicago-based USAgain, founded in Seattle in 1999, is a for-profit company that provides its consumers with an avenue to discard used or unwanted clothing items in a way that benefits the environment.

USAgain generates its profits by selling its collected items to wholesalers, resale shops and companies that break down the materials to make other items such as car fibers and mattress padding.

“Our goal is to minimize waste in landfills,” said Rasham Grewal, a spokeswoman for USAgain who’s a Streamwood resident. “There are huge quantities of textiles going into landfills. It’s not acceptable.”

Bartlett is on the list of cities nation-wide that has a drop box for people to donate used clothes. The drop box is located outside a business, Kemmy’s Hotdogs, 245 Lake Street. While the hot dog shop is no longer in business, the box remains a valid dropoff site and is serviced one to two times a week.

USAgain currently provides over 9,000 drop boxes in 15 states.

Grewal said each box, located outside municipalities and schools, holds up to 500 to 600 pounds of materials. The boxes are emptied at least once a week, while some are serviced every day. Most boxes are unattended and items may be dropped in boxes at sites 24 hours a day.

The boxes are scanned during each pickup as a way to monitor the amount of items being collected and to better plan routes, Grewal said.

The collections are then taken to the company’s headquarters in West Chicago, where they are bundled and shipped to customers.

According Grewal, only 15 percent of used clothing gets recycled nationwide each year by being donated to companies such as USAgain or nonprofit charities such as Goodwill or The Salvation Army. The remaining 85 percent ends up in landfills, Grewal said.

“Just because it is too small or too big or out of fashion, doesn’t mean it won’t fit somebody else,” she said.

USAgain sells approximately 80 percent of its collections to resale stores and wholesalers, while about 20 percent is recycled into new materials.

Garson & Shaw, a second-hand clothing supplier based in Atlanta, Ga. is one company that purchases USAgain’s materials.

Lisa Jepsen, President of Garson & Shaw, referred to its relationship with USAgain as a business partnership where textiles are bought from USAgain and sold to different suppliers, including second- hand stores and to markets in third-world countries including those in Europe and Africa.

Jepsen said companies such as USAgain make it possible to clothe people who are struggling.

“The second-hand clothes are of very good quality,” she said. “For me, it means a lot that we are bringing all the clothes to the markets in these countries where people really need clothes and shoes at a price that they can afford. It’s very bad that for them to end up in landfills.”

If a business has a drop box on site, Grewal said there’s a revenue-sharing program where a percentage of the sales benefit the site host. Businesses also have the option of to donating the earnings to a charity of its choice.

"Even though we are a for-profit company, we give a lot back to communities, and we are looking for more ways to help out local people,” Grewal said. “We have fundraising programs for schools, churches and other nonprofit organizations.”

By entering your zip code on USAgain’s website, www.usagain.com, the 10 closest drop box locations are listed.

“Convenience is what we focus on,” Grewal said. “We want to make recycling easy. We want to give people another option.”

By Marissa Bruno