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Rag Traders Relish Recycled Clothing

Aired 2/28/12 on KPBS News.

Former throwaways find far-flung new life in recycling era.

— Open your closets and drawers, pull out your old clothes and recycle them. That’s the message at the SMART convention being held today at the Hotel Del Coronado.

SMART is an acronym for Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles. Sixty vendors representing the used clothing, wiping materials and fiber conversion industries are gathered to get the word out that they even want your rags.

Rag Traders Relish Recycled Clothing
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Jackie King is SMART’s Executive Director.

“People say, 'I can’t donate that because it’s out of style. It’s clean but I spilled wine on it and I can’t get the stain out and it can’t be used.' It’s not true at all, people can recycle all of it," King said.

"If they donate it, if the charity’s not going to use it, they’re going to sell it to one of our members. Then they’re going to use the money they get from our members from the sale to do all the good things they do."

If good used clothing doesn’t get sold in the U.S., it’s recycled to Third World countries where people can’t afford to buy new clothes.

Damaged clothing is reclaimed for shop towels or rags.

Even shredded rags can be converted to fibers that are used in carpet padding or insulation.

Picture the standard Southern California day-off dress code: jeans, a T-shirt and a pair of flip-flops. When they get worn out, instead of throwing them away to die in the landfill, they can go on to find new life.

The T-shirt can be used as several cut up rags. The jeans can be shredded to become home insulation. The flip-flops, even if one is missing, can go to a Third World country to be used to patch up a shoe. Yes, there is even a single-shoe market for recyclables.

It’s not just clothing that can be reclaimed. Belts, bedding, pillows and carpeting are also in demand. As long as the textiles are not wet or mildewed, they can be used.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 5 percent of landfill waste can be reduced by recycling clothing.

Jackie King said: “Don’t throw it away, don’t put it in a landfill, because there’s a need for it. Right now, everybody’s talking about being green, saying, 'what things can we do?' This is an easy thing for people to do.”

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