Wed January 19, 2011

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Lose weight. Get a new job. Take more vacation. Spend time with the kids. It's been almost three weeks. How are those resolutions going? If your 2011 goal was to declutter your closet, hope it's still going strong. And not just because it will free up some extra space in your home.

Done right, the act of cleaning out your closet can provide huge benefits to the environment. You see, all those out-of-date tops, ill-fitting jeans and giveaway t-shirts you've got stuffed away in boxes can be worn again by others -- but not if they're sitting in your attic.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the average American generates about 60 lbs of clothing waste every year. And that number is continuing to rise as clothing chains get more affordable. The cheaper the clothing merchandise out there, the more we're compelled to buy it -- even though it's often those very garments that are most likely to fall apart or fit a little funny. We all know what I'm talking about. They looked alright in the dressing room, the price was fantastic... and then they get relegated to a black list somewhere in the depths of your closet, while we continue to consume.

Not surprisingly, there are huge spikes in textile waste disposal every year in the two weeks that follow Christmas . We're making room for the new loot we got under the tree, and tossing the unwanted pieces. In with the new, out with the old, right? Problem is, too much of "the old" tends to wind up in landfills, and not enough of it gets used again.

I should know. At USAgain, we collected almost 2 million pounds of discarded clothing in our local drop-off bins over the past two weeks. If we saw that kind of volume in just our 9,000 bins in 15 states, can you imagine the amount that must have gone directly into the easiest waste receptacle of them all: the trash can? It's unfortunately a staggeringly high volume of waste.

And it's an unnecessary waste. The worst thing we can do is throw perfectly wearable clothing in the trash. Just because we don't want them, doesn't mean they can't find a second home on someone else's back. 100% of discarded clothing can be put to new use, either by going to someone else who can wear it, or by being broken down into new materials and reused. For instance, did you know old jeans are used to create housing insulation? That old shoes can become sidewalks?

So while you realize you shouldn't throw your old clothes away, what should you do with them?

Charities can be a great solution for putting old clothes back into the waste cycle, especially in the cold weather. Yet not everyone has a "go-to" cause to support, and sometimes looking one up can, well, take more time than we've all got right now.

Companies like USAgain act just like bottle and can recycling operations do, providing a drop off point for your unwanted clothing items, and taking them to be reused or recycled. They provide a convenient option.

So while you may have already stopped going to the gym after a few attempts to lose weight this year, we hope your resolution to declutter is still alive -- and green.


Mattias Wallander is CEO of USAgain, a textile collection company headquartered in Chicago. The company collects used clothing in major markets across the U.S. including Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Milwaukee and San Francisco.


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