Tue February 1, 2011
Just as for-profit aluminum and glass recycling companies provide bins for local residents to responsibly dispose of their cans and bottles, local clothing collection bins provide the general public with an easy and environmentally friendly option when it comes to tossing their unwanted clothing.
USAgain (pronounced “use again”), headquartered in Chicago, collects unwanted textiles for resale in the United States and abroad, effectively diverting millions of pounds of clothing from landfills, generating new revenue streams for U.S. businesses and non-profits, and fueling local economies in emerging countries.
In 2009, USAgain collected nearly 54 million pounds of textiles, which translates into roughly 3 million cubic yards of landfill space saved nationwide. It’s also comparable to offsetting emissions from as many as 32,000 cars in a full year or saving enough water to fill nearly 2 million swimming pools.
Some might question the importance of recycling clothing: How much of a demand is there, really? The answer is a lot. The average American consumes 70 pounds of textiles a year. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 85 percent of that is discarded with the trash, which means that for each of its inhabitants, the average city hauls 60 pounds of recyclable textiles to the landfill. A city with a population of 50,000 pays for the handling and disposal of 3,000 tons of textiles annually. It’s bad for the environment and arguably worse for taxpayers’ wallets.
“People simply don’t realize how much is out there, what a great need there is for a good clothing re-use system and how easy it can be to do,” USAgain founder and president Janice Bostic always say about textile recycling. She’s absolutely right. Here’s how we do it.
The company separates the material it collects and sells it to wholesalers, thrift store chains or graders. This activity helps generate revenue for businesses that host clothing collection bins, creates green jobs in the United States and abroad, and helps to improve the well-being of people around the world.
In a tough economy, the used clothing collection business is a growth sector. USAgain employs 170 employees and operates over 8,500 collection bins in 14 states. It recently rolled out operations in San Francisco’s Bay Area.
Recycling clothing is good for the environment, good for the people who need affordable clothing options, and ultimately, is as essential to municipalities as paper, plastic and aluminum recycling. Those materials are recycled by for-profit companies just like us, and we’re proud to be a small business making money by doing something good for the environment.
Mattias Wallander is the CEO of Chicago-based USAgain.