We Re-Cycle People & Polyester!
Inspiring & Empowering Women
Saving the Planet!
My Sister’s Place started out in 2008 as a non-profit that provided transitional services to marginalized and underserved women who had reached a certain level of despair while trying to heal from the traumas of life. Many were in various stages of recovery from substances and most had negative self-images, which ultimately caused them to ―give up‖ early in treatment. These women would find themselves returning to abusive relationships; and the cycle would start all over again.
One of the positive things that was noted, was when the agency received donated clothing and the women came to the office to help sort– they would often find clothes that they wanted to have and we would trade out labor for those items. They would then return to the house with an increased self-esteem– trying on the clothes with each other, accessorizing and feeling good. This often would last for several days as they would wear the clothes to appointments and to church and some were even brave enough to apply for jobs. We noticed the positive empowerment and improved self-image and the lasting effect it would have on their attitudes and behavior. We closed the house in 2010, know-ing that in order for these women to be successful, they would need to find employment that could work with their limited skills, their fractured self-concepts; their feelings of unworthiness; and being looked down upon.
We had decided to change our focus to employment as we felt the issues of stability and life structure depended greatly on obtaining a job that worked to increase self-esteem, while teaching marketable skills. We remembered the excitement with the clothing and soon realized that a job working with fabric (clothing) would give women the interest they would need to stay employed, especially if they knew they could get an article of clothing at the end, plus get a paycheck. I started looking at cloth-ing in a different way. I wanted to learn about where clothing went when it left our facility and I quickly learned that clothing was being dumped into the landfills at alarming rates! I called all the local and regional waste management companies and many admitted to not collecting clothing as a recyclable waste product, choosing instead to believe that somehow it all ended up at Goodwill! Well further research told me that that was not the case. I connected with other recyclers and buyers and brokers of clothing products. I began to see the possibility of clothing being recycled in order to keep it out of the landfill, as well as a way to provide jobs for underserved people. For 2 years, I engaged in market research of clothing trends and the lifecycle of clothing and was oftentimes shocked to find this particular resource was also a big unrelenting waste in our landfills. The statistics allowed me to look at how people dispose of this resource and the various ways it can be recycled; to not only provide jobs, but to also provide lasting sustainability to our non-profit and to reduce our carbon foot prints in the world. And I wondered why more people aren’t doing it. I discovered the following:
- More than 500 textile recycling companies are engaged in operating the stream of used textiles in the United States. The textile recycling industry employs approximately 10,000 semi-skilled workers at the primary processing level and creates an additional 7,000 jobs at the final processing stage. Primary and secondary proc-essors account for annual gross sales of $400 million and $300 million, respectively.
- An estimated 11.9 million tons of textiles were generated in 2007. It equates to 4.7 % of total municipal solid waste (MSW) generation.
- As per the Council for Textile Recycling, textile recycling industry prevents 2.5 billion pounds of post consumer textile product waste from going into the solid waste stream annually.
- This 2.5 billion pounds of post consumer textile waste represents 10 pounds per person in the United States.
- About 500 million pounds of textiles collected are used by the collecting agency. The balance is sold to textile recyclers, including used clothing dealers and exporters, wiping rag graders, and fiber recyclers.
- Most textile recycling firms are small, family-owned businesses. Majority of them employ around 35 to 50 workers, many of whom are semi-skilled or marginally employable workers.
According to the Council for Textile Recycling, nearly half of discarded textiles are given to charities, who either give away clothes or sell them at discounted prices in secondhand stores. Approximately 61% of the clothes recovered for second-hand use are exported to other countries. Used textiles have a relatively stable and high price. If we are to look at the types of clothing that does end up in the landfills— we can see that ac-cording to the previously mentioned statistics—each of us throws away about 10 pounds per year; multiply that by the number of family members you have; add the number of seasons and the changes in trends of cloth-ing, plus clothes we outgrow and the stained and torn we don’t fix. Add in teenagers, fashion models and ac-tors/actresses with more disposable income and clothing and we can see the mountains of clothing that is easily disposed of. We are consumers of waste products that do not break down in the landfills. 100% cotton does break down over several years, however 100% wool turns into methane gas which causes global warm-ing. Most of todays clothing is a polyester mix that does not break down at all..
At My Sister’s Place Urban ReCycle we collect clothing—stuff nobody wants or wears—we have collection boxes and we do collections in communities. One of our goals is to get a monthly curbside collection going in Indianapolis– to share what we know about the life-cycle of an article of clothing and to teach people how to re-cycle, re-use, up-cycle, & re-purpose clothing items in order to provide jobs and marketable and sellable products to the community. Another goal is to get the community to understand the need to donate a larger space to us, so that we can grow our organization and allow us to continue to do what we do best— RECYCLE PEOPLE & POLYESTER! It’s a win/win situation for communities and for keeping our landfills clean while providing much needed jobs to our citizens. We are a social enterprise helping marginalized peo-ple while providing jobs.
Carol Wellman, MSW, Founder & Director
5620 Crawfordsville Road, Speedway Indiana 46224