WasteNot: Clothes and shoes don’t belong in the landfill!

We all generate clothes and shoes that we have outgrown, worn out or grown tired of (which is a luxury in most parts of the world). It’s what we do with them at this juncture that determines whether we will create unnecessary waste. The quote: “use it up, wear it out, pass it on, or do without” is very apropos for clothes and shoes and one of the easier “reduce and re-use” choices.
Just for your reference, clothing and other fabric may be referred to as textiles. Shoes are called, shoes. It may be surprising to read that worn and clean clothes and shoes are a marketable commodity. Yet, too many of these materials end up in the landfill. Diverting textiles and shoes from becoming trashed decreases waste and reduces our carbon footprint while providing a second or third run when re-sold or donated to be worn again or upcycled into a new product. This creates jobs in the U.S. and around the world.
According to the Planet Aid organization planetaid.org (which is dedicated to finding new uses for clothing and shoes), “about 85 percent of unwanted clothing is still being thrown into the trash by consumers, which amounts to about 68 pounds per person per year.” We can easily avoid this trend.
Even though the resale market for shoes and clothes experiences fluctuations in value similar to metal, paper and plastics, a White City business has been finding other avenues for this material and generating some income to boot.
I had an interesting conversation last week with Randy Harrison of Allied Environmental Services (AES) to learn what happens to the clothing and shoes he collects in the Rogue Valley. Randy has been baling up clothes and shoes for more than a decade. Some years back he was baling up material and transporting it to a Seattle company called Buffalo Exports.
They were exporting to South America and Africa. Once the bales arrived, they were divided and sold to street vendors who would then sell them in local markets for clothing “as is.” Randy learned that some of the textiles sent to South America were purchased by large plantation owners who paid handsomely for the material. He later suspected that the clothes and shoes were used as decoys to smuggle drugs. He ceased providing material to them after that disturbing revelation.
Randy shared that in 2017 he collected and re-distributed 111 tons of clothes and shoes. That translates to 222,049 pounds of material from the Rogue Valley that did not get landfilled!!!
Each bale weighs approximately 800 pounds and historically the payout is between 4 and 16 cents per pound. Currently, the value is on an upward trend at around $80 per bale, or 8 cents a pound.
Some of us get to choose whether to adorn ourselves in virgin outfits or acquire used clothing. For many around the world, wearing used clothing is a necessity. I may choose to buy new or used and then make the effort once I have grown weary of these clothes, to keep them out of the garbage. It may be an unrecognized luxury for those who can afford to buy crispy new clothes with tags and stinky chemical smell from manufacturing (unless you support organic products).
Some of the up-cycle avenues for clothes include shredding old T-shirts and turning them into building insulation or wiping rags.
Tired but clean and holy athletic shoes can be ground up and made into rubbery playground surfaces.
Re-marketable clothes and shoes MUST BE CLEAN. Torn is fine. Stained is fine. No high heels shoes and no flip flops are accepted. Shoes are paired by make, model and size before being palletized and shipped off.
In our area we have several options, including thrift and second hand stores like Goodwill, Hospice Boutique or Arc in Medford, just to name a few organizations that would gladly accept gently used clothes and shoes.
So now you know that sentencing this commodity to the landfill can easily be avoided. Randy accepts material in White City at 2645 Avenue G, or phone 541-826-2773. The Ashland FreeBox at the recycle center on Water Street is currently opened only on Thursdays from noon until 3 p.m. Leftover material is picked up by AES and, as long as the clothes and shoes are CLEAN, your efforts will keep these commodities out of the landfill. Who knew it was this easy? It’s only trash, if that’s how you treat it.
— Risa Buck has served on the Ashland Conservation Commission and in waste prevention education for more than a dozen years. You may reach her through betling@dailytidings.com. Find past WasteNot columns online at bit.ly/rbwastenot.

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