Sean M. Graw works for USAgain and is a recycling enthusiast.
They’re big, they’re green, and they’re all around Columbia. There’s one at Benton Elementary School, Los Cuates Restaurant and Splashers Laundry and Tanning. Patricia’s Foods has two.
They’re USAgain bins, located throughout Columbia for residents to conveniently recycle clothing, shoes and other textiles. USAgain is a for-profit company operating in Missouri and 17 other states, with the mission of keeping textiles out of landfills and giving them a second life. According to a recent Missouri Waste Composition Study, textiles account for 4.7 percent of municipal solid waste in the state.
Nearly all used textiles can be reused and recycled, but unfortunately, not nearly enough of them are.
According to the U.S. EPA, only 15% of all textile waste is recycled — the rest is sent to landfills. The alarming amount of textile waste also requires new products to be produced, which puts strain on the environment. According to the World Bank, nearly 20% of global industrial water pollution comes from the dyeing and treatment of textiles.
Finding any way to recycle, reuse or repurpose clothing is a step in the right direction. There have been recent trends in upcycling, the process of transforming an item that’s no longer wanted into something useful and creative, such as making an old t-shirt into a gift bag or clothing for a pet. There are also the options of holding a garage sale to earn a little money from used clothing, donating it to a charity, passing it along to a friend or dropping it in a designated textile recycling bin.
America goes through a surprising amount of clothing each year, and as one might guess, a surprisingly high amount gets thrown in the trash. Indeed, the average American trashes 68 pounds of clothing annually, nearly all of which can — and should — be given a second life as secondhand clothing, a product made from recycled textiles or an upcycled item.
Next time you bag up the clothing that’s been crowding your closet, make sure the one place it doesn’t wind up is the trash.
What causes or projects are you passionate about? This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.