Read the original story on TheChampionNewspaper.com, originally published 7.22.2013
The folks at USAgain (pronounced use again), a textile recycling company, like to say their business is a triple win—for people, the planet and profit.
“Yes, we’re a business, but we’re proud to be a business that’s good for the environment and that helps people in developing countries and here in the United States,” said Kevin Fitzgerald, USAgain regional sales manager, who works at the company’s Atlanta area office, located in Stone Mountain.
“Textiles are the worst things you can put in a landfill. When they decompose they create more pollutants than paper or plastic do,” Fitzgerald continued. He cited EPA figures that American households discard a total of 25.4 billion pounds of textiles annually.
“We are a green enterprise seeking to keep clothes out of landfills because all too often, clothes get tossed in the trash. Almost everyone understands and recognizes recycling aluminum, glass, paper and plastic, but unfortunately not enough people recycle their used clothes and shoes. According to the EPA, just 15 percent of clothes are reused or recycled, although all clothing and shoes can be reused or recycled,” Fitzgerald said.
“I especially like that we hold events at schools, not just because school children are growing and generate a lot of used clothing,” he said, “but because we are educating the next generation, making them aware of how recycling benefits the planet and all of us who live on it.”
“Approximately 70 percent of the world wears second hand clothes,” explained USAgin Division Manager Kim Boedskov. “In many places people don’t have the same standards we have. People are OK with clothing that’s out of fashion, a little worn or even with small stains.”
He said that while his business deals in discarded items, passing such items along as giveaways in developing nations does not help their economies—but selling them at a low price does. “Leaders in these countries discourage giving clothes to people there. People have more pride and dignity when they can raise a crop, sell it and have a little money to shop for inexpensive used clothing. The local shopkeepers get to make money as well,” added Boedskov, who said he has worked in developing African and Asian countries and seen firsthand the needs of the people there.
In the United States, thrift stores are a growing business, he said, noting that in 2009 there was a 12.7 percent increase in the sale of used clothing, compared with the previous year. During that same period, retail sales overall were down 7.3 percent, he said, citing U.S. Department of Commerce data.
Boedskov, who is originally from Sweden, said textile recycling is more common in European countries, but even there only an estimated 30 percent of textiles are recycled. In addition to clothing, towels, bed linens, draperies and other cloth items can be recycled. Many of the items are reused as they are, he said. Others are taken apart for a second use. “In India, they often pull the yarn out of sweaters and reknit it into a new garment. Wool can be used and reused indefinitely. Even clothing that is too worn for reuse can be shredded and used in insulation and furniture stuffing, for example.” Even items people don’t normally think of putting in collection bins, including used underwear, can have a second life, he said.
USAgain collects items for recycling in its green and white collection bins, which are placed in commercial areas with permission of the property owners. Right now, Fitzgerald said, there are approximately 1,000 bins in Georgia, 47 of which are in Decatur. The company also has 100 bins in Alabama.
“We try to make it as convenient for people as possible. People will recycle if it’s easy for them. So far this year, Decatur and USAgain have recycled more than 93,000 pounds of textiles and prevented the emission of more than 653,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in doing so,” Boedskov said.