See the Box. Do the Drop.

Too few textiles being recycled in Illinois, advocates say

By Ginger Zee
|  Tuesday, Apr 20, 2010  |  Updated 4:26 PM CDT
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Mention the term "recycling" and most automatically think of glass and plastic. But textiles are another big resource hog and shouldn't be forgotten, advocates say.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only about 15 percent of the clothing discarded in the United States is donated or recycled. The remaining eight million tons goes into landfills each year.

In Illinois, almost 10 percent of household waste is made up of textiles.

For Mattias Wallander, the CEO of US’Again in West Chicago, that's a number that needs to change.

His textile recycling company, with a processing center in West Chicago, has a goal for the month of April to collect five million pounds of clothing across the country.

That would elminate 35 million pounds of greenhouse gases, he said.

"It’s incredible because it’s a material that you can take and reuse," the Swedish-born Wallander explained. "It’s not like paper or glass that you have to break down and turn into new material. The cost to the environment is miniscule to reuse clothing."

USAgain -- which can be read as "USA Gain" and pronounced as "Use Again" -- was launched 10 years ago in Seattle. Now their signature red boxes, designed by the son of Sydney Opera House architect Jorn Utzon, pepper 8,000 church, school, and store parking lots around the country.

Drop gently worn clothes and shoes in the box and they're picked up to be sifted, weighed, bundled, and shipped.

"About half the clothes stay in the US. The other half is exported. We sell to Central America, South America, Africa, to Europe," he said.

He said his company isn't trying to outdo other organizations like Goodwill and the Salvation Army, but instead just wants to make it easier for everyone to do the right thing.

"This is a win-win operation. We take something that is a surplus that is basically a waste in our society and we move it to a place that can use it," said Wallender. USAgain


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