Monday, February 25, 2013

"The Afterlife of Cheap Clothes"

Chapter 5 of Over-dressed

Elizabeth Cline goes to the Quincy Street Salvation Army, shares some sobering facts about the waste produced by our current shopping habits, etc:

pg 122: Every year, Americans throw away 12.7 million tons, or 68 pounds of textiles per person, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which also estimates that 1.6 million tons of this waste could be recycled or reused.

did you get that?  per person in the USA - 68 pounds of clothes a year in the trash.

That is embarrassing (and I don't throw away clothes.)

And you wouldn't believe what happens to the clothes we donate.

At the Quincy Street Salvation Army, a distribution center serving eight Salvation Army locations in Brooklyn and Queens, Elizabeth Cline learns that they process an average of five tons of outcast clothing every single day of the year.  Sorters pull 11,200 garments a day of that 5 tons to distribute.
Also at the distribution center Elizabeth Cline is shown the "rag-out" room.  Clothing that is out of season, stained, been on the rack too long without getting sold, etc are placed in this room.  Cline describes 2 men pushing the clothes into a giant compressor that squeezes out cubs of rejected clothing that weigh 1/2 a ton each. (I image giant cloth hay bales)

The Quincy Street Salvation Army builds a wall of unwanted clothes every 3 days (18 tons/36 bales). 18 tons of clothes in 3 days!
 pg 132 Goodwill executives told the Washington Post in 2002 that the organization had spent $500,000 that year alone hauling away worthless rubbish, including soiled clothing that couldn't be resold.
(that quote really gets my attention.  I believed that old cotton- socks, underpants- that couldn't be sold as clothes were sold to rag pickers.  I don't want Goodwill to pay to haul out my trash!)

Too keep all those clothes out of landfills created opportunity for businesses that are called rag graders and textile recyclers.

pg 128 "The rag graders came along and figured to how to separate clothes and find markets around the world that'd be interested in buying it." says Paben.  John Paben is co-owner of used clothing processer Mid-West Textile. "Gradually you had fewer and fewer good going to the landfill."  Today textile graders find use for most of our donated clothing.

pg 130 According to the rade organization Secondary materials and Recycled Textiles (SMART) less than half of the clothing processed by textile recyclers is of a high enough quality to continue as clothing.
20 % is sold to fiber buyers and reused as insulation, carpet padding, building materials
30% is sold to the industrial wiping-rag industry
approximately 5% is thrown away

Interestingly - since most of the clothes that are bought today are cheaply made and do not last, resulting in most of the donation being cheaply made, there is a premium on Vintage Clothing.  Anything made pre-1990 is most likely "better made."

pg 133 Textile graders are raising vintage prices in order to offset the declining in value of other clothing they process. Vintage clothing, like designer clothing, is in danger of becoming a rich person's sport.

What clothing isn't sold to vintage shops, sold out of Goodwill, or sold to be turned into industrial material is sold overseas.  This part of this chapter was particularly enlightening to me.  As I mentioned, I had heard that some clothes could be sold for industrial rag but I didn't know it was sent abroad.


I feel like I am plagarizing (I'm not- I have noted all the quotes from the book, it is a list of quotes) so I'm going to end here with some of her sources.

Jaqueline L. Salmon "Goodwill Shutting Down Some Area Thrift Shops: Sinking Quality Hurting Bottom Line" Washington Post, April 12, 2002
Hansen "Secondhand Clothing"
Jana Hawley "Economic Impact of Textile and Clothing Recycling"

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