Fri December 30, 2011

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This Time, Remember to Recycle Your Santa Hat... and Everything Else, Too!

Time really flies! I've already been writing this column for an entire year, and it has been such a great outlet for me. Through these articles, I've recognized the work of environment pioneers I admire, offered advice to fellow recyclers and shed light on planet and people friendly topics.

Overall, it has been an exciting and busy year. It's only around the holidays when I finally get to slow down, take a deep breath, and look back, reflect on the on the past year and think about what is coming on the horizon.

And my reflections this year inspire me. Looking back, I see a growing international commitment to the environment, recycling and living a greener lifestyle. I've also been inspired by real-life stories of people around the globe who benefit from second hand clothing that USAgain, and others like us, bring to them.

Not everyone realizes this, but used clothing is a much needed global commodity resold in thrift stores and market places worldwide. It is amazing how many people in the US and around the world depend on used clothes for their livelihoods and to support their families. The used clothing industry is creating unprecedented employment and local opportunities for entrepreneurs as much in communities in U.S. as in far flung areas from Africa to Central America. More than one-fourth of all African clothing imports are previously worn.

The EPA recently released the latest statistics on textile waste in the US. In 2010 Americans discarded an estimated 13.1 million tons, which makes up a sizeable 5.3 percent of total municipal solid waste. Astoundingly, only 15 percent of that (or 2 million tons) was recovered for recycling, export or reprocessing. This means that 85 percent of textiles in 2010 ended up in the trash when a lot of these textiles were perfectly re-wearable, reusable, or definitely recyclable. This is the 85% we all need to set in our sights and eliminate.

As if on cue, just last month the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) announced its support for a new campaign to increase public awareness of textile recycling, meant to make a dent on this very figure. This outreach campaign is sponsored by the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART), a trade association whose members reclaim, convert and recycle textiles across the globe.

Examples like this, are really encouraging since they highlight the many steps being taken across the country to take textiles out of the waste cycle and give them a second life. The next few years will be quite critical in maintaining the current momentum since there's still a long distance to cover -- over 5 times of what's been covered so far.

There are so many ways that textiles can have a second life! So this time, remember to give that Santa hat a second life too.

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