Where do all the clothes go?

June 29, 2009

by Kristen Miller

If you drive in Cokato along Highway 12, you have likely seen the big red bin in the parking lot of the Marketplace. Many may even have used it to deposit used clothing, linens, and shoes. I know I have.

U’SAgain has 8,000 collection points in 14 states, and in 2008, there were 54 million pounds collected, according to the textile recycling company’s web site, www.usagain2.com.

Last week, KSTP did an investigative report on where these donated items were going.

The report, which can be viewed online, implies the company has been deceiving to those who use their bins – in that it’s not a not-for-profit company, but instead a commercial company or for-profit company.

I can see how someone would get the idea that this is a non-profit, but why assume anything, is what I wonder?

If anyone was curious they could go up to the drop box and see that it does say it’s a commercial textile company that recycles used items.

The investigation made it sound like it was in “small print” for dramatization. Looking at it closely, I didn’t think there was much of a size difference between the lettering, but whatever.

Visiting the web site, in bold letters, on the top, it says it’s a “textile recycling company.”

The word “company” tends to mean “for profit,” but what I want to know is, why was it a big deal that this isn’t a non-profit? Maybe it needs money to pay its workers. Does it need to be a non-profit in order to do good?

According to its site, the mission is “to run a modern commercial business in a professional and profitable manner, while contributing to and participating in the absolute win-win phenomenon of recycling . . .” and site lists ways the company does that.

I have dropped off items there before, items I didn’t think the local thrift shop may have wanted or needed.

After dropping the items off, I understood that this was a recycling company. Not only that, the items I dropped off went to those who were less fortunate than I.

The site goes on to explain the process of how the items are sorted and baled for shipping.

The items are then exported to Third World countries, therefore contributing to the local economy.

“Secondhand clothing is all that is affordable to an individual earning $200 annually,” the site said.

“Industry members are capable of delivering a pair of pants in clean, damage-free condition to the east coast of Africa for 34 cents a pair and sweaters to Pakistan for 12 cents each – less than the cost of mailing a letter. These prices include the garment, as well as the cost of transportation.”

The investigation went on to say perfectly good items were being tossed into dumpsters.

Since this is a for-profit organization, I have a hard time believing a company would allow perfectly good items to be thrown away when they could be sold, even if at a low price.

I can just about imagine the items the workers find when sorting those bins.

Some people may feel this is just a way to get rid of garbage without filling up their trash can.

Those items that were caught on tape being thrown away, I’m sure were there for good reasons.

I think the main objective of this company is to reuse items that would otherwise be thrown into the landfill.

But if a person doesn’t feel good contributing, there are alternatives.

Ann Harmala of Save and Share Thrift Store said, “If you’d give it to a friend to use, we welcome it.”

Otherwise, if it’s soiled and can’t be sold at the Cokato thrift store, which is a non-profit, then it just fills up their garbage, which has to be paid for by them.

Sometimes, the thrift store has too many of certain items and will have to purge. Some of the non-profit charities it donates to are the Epilepsy Foundation, Sharing and Caring Hands, Marie Sandvick, and Wee Care, Wee Share out of Annandale.

Be aware and know where your clothes are going. I think that is what KSTP was trying to tell its audience. It just came across a bit harsh, that’s all.