U'SAgain gives new life to used clothing, textiles

Tue December 15, 2009

Dec. 15--WILLMAR -- A commercial recycling business hopes you'll drop your used clothing, textiles and shoes in one of the company's big red collection boxes rather than tossing those items in the trash.

The big red boxes, located in Willmar and other cities across the country, are owned by U'SAgain, a company started 10 years ago in Seattle and now headquartered in the Chicago area.

The company is dedicated to reducing landfill waste by making wearable items available to the less fortunate and recycling un-wearable textiles.

"We're a country of surplus and a country of convenience and a country of waste,'' says Janice Bostic, one of three U'SAgain founders and company. She was reached in Minneapolis.

Although many people recycle aluminum, cardboard, newspaper and plastic, fewer people recycle textiles. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the country recycles only about 18 percent of textiles.

"We thought clothing was also a recyclable commodity. That's something we thought we could do something with,'' said Bostic.

"We combined all those issues of being a country of convenience with the drop box so that people notice the boxes are near your child's school or near the grocery store or something you go by every day,'' she said. "It's 24/7, so there's no good excuse not to utilize it.''

U'SAgain receives permission from property owners before placing boxes on their property, said Bostic. "We have to make sure that we have the correct permissions to do what we do,'' she said.
U'SAgain receives many kinds of textiles from sheets, towels and blankets to many types of clothing, shoes and accessories.

The company requests donors place items in a bag to protect the integrity of the items and that items be clean and dry. An item can be stained, but the item should not be freshly soiled, which could contaminate other items.

"If it can fit in the box, we'll take it,'' said Bostic. "But really what our business is is clothing and textiles and shoes.''

Items are trucked to the company warehouse where wet or contaminated items are thrown out. Reusable items are then pressed into thousand-pound bales for more efficient shipment. The bales are sold to thrift stores, exported to developing countries, and sold to graders that sort wearable and usable items from un-wearable and unusable items. Un-wearable and unusable items are sold for recycling into other products.

"Our emphasis is on re-wear, reuse, recycle,'' Bostic said. "We'd rather see the clothing re-worn by somebody somewhere if it's re-wearable, or in the end is recycled.''
U'SAgain is not the only company that recycles textiles.

"In the Chicago-land area, there are many others than us that do the same thing that we do,'' said Bostic.
The Council for Textile Recycling says more than 500 textile recycling companies are engaged in operating the stream of used textiles, employing approximately 10,000 semi-skilled workers at the
primary processing level and creating an additional 7,000 jobs at the final processing stage.

The council estimates that the textile recycling industry prevents 2.5 billion pounds of post-consumer textile product from entering the solid waste stream annually.

"We're diverting something from the landfill here and it's creating jobs in the local economy and decent quality clothing for people who don't have a lot of means, so I think they're actually getting better quality clothing for the prices that they can afford,'' said Bostic.

"That's one of the things that I really like about what we do,'' she said. "It's definitely a win-win all the way around.''

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