Four college students sit and chat Thursday afternoon among a few pairs of old shoes at the edge of a nearly empty, white semi-truck trailer containing about 50 trash bags filled with used clothing. The girls examine a painted tarp folded in one of the two cardboard boxes next to the trailer, trying to decide if it can be recycled.
In an effort to encourage consumers to recycle old clothing and request products made from used textiles, the Association of Textile and Apparel Management, a student organization at MU, is hosting a clothing drive today through Sunday. The goal is to collect enough textiles to fill the truck to its 18,000-pound capacity.
Every year more than 4 million tons of textiles are thrown away, when they can be recycled into items ranging from an alternative fuel source to clothing for people in less-developed countries, the textile association says.
Since only a few people stopped by the drop-off site on the first day of the drive, student organizer Amanda Fleskoski said members would be going door-to-door to hand out brochures today. The textiles being collected will be driven to Remains Inc., a St. Louis textile recycling company, and sorted into four categories: “wiper grade” for knit, flannel and corduroy textiles that are too damaged to be worn, “vintage” for clothing that can be resold, “shoes, belts, toys and handbags” and “sweaters and heavy polyester,” which is ground up for its fabric content.
The sorted materials are sold to “graders” and eventually turned into products. Most graders are in Texas, California, the East Coast and Canada. Kelly Stewart of Remains Inc. said graders are not usually located in the Midwest due to shipping costs, although he knows one company in Kansas City and another one in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Athletic shoes taken to Remains Inc. are sent to Nike Grind, Nike’s reuse-a-shoe program, which turns old shoes into sports surfaces. The new turf at Faurot Field is made from Nike’s FieldTurf, which contains ground-up rubber from old shoes.
Rubber from athletic shoes is also used for golf merchandise, weight-room floors and running tracks. Foam makes synthetic basketball courts and playground surfacing. The fabric and leather is used for padding hardwood basketball floors.
Nike has processed more than 15 million pairs of shoes since 1993, and recycles 1 to 2 million pairs of athletic shoes per year.
Textiles in the “wiper grade” are sold as wiping cloths. Polyester and other nonabsorbable materials can be shredded and made into items such as moving pads or sound-deafening pads for cars.
Remains Inc. has been recycling clothes for 22 years, although it only started the “bulk” side of the business, incorporating more than vintage clothing, nine years ago. The company processes around 40,000 pounds of textiles a day — 38,000 in clothes and 2,000 in shoes and other materials.
The firm will be giving the MU textile association about 6 cents per pound, depending on the quality and amount of textiles collected.
Money from the fund-raiser will be used for the group’s trip to Dallas in mid-April. The students will visit the Dallas Market Center and J.C. Penny Co. Inc. headquarters. In addition to fund-raising, members of the textile association also want to help the environment.
“Our teachers talk about how much stuff gets thrown away, and it’s just unnecessary,” said Liz Brewer, a member of the association. “This is something else to help the environment.”