Where Does It All Go?

Have you ever wondered what happens to the clothing, shoes, and books that you donate? How do charities deal with the t-shirts too stained too wear, the worn-out sneakers, and the books with the damaged covers that are donated along with very usable items?

We all envision – maybe even fantasize – that our cast-offs will be used by someone who needs them and will cherish them as much as we do. Some of our items will find loving homes, of course, but recycling the usable parts of unusable items is just as important and we’ve found some places that do just that.

A blogger in England decided to check out the path that items take from initial donation to final use at Oxfam, a leading charity in England that fights global poverty. In her intriguing post “Old clothes don’t go to heaven. They go to Milton Keynes” about her visit to the Oxfam warehouse in Milton Keynes, a town north of London, she discovered that VHS tapes and CDs, for instance, are recycled by parts, the video or CD in one place, the paper covers in another, and the plastic box or case in yet another. Books get their barcodes scanned: Popular ones are sold on Amazon or eBay, unpopular ones are sold as props for films and TV, and damaged ones are sent directly to paper recycling.

GrowNYC’s clothing and textile recycling collection has set up easily accessible drop-off sites at numerous Greenmarket farmers markets in New York City. New Yorkers toss an average of 46 pounds of clothing and textiles in the trash each year, an amount that’s probably similar for all Americans. To keep those fabric items out of the landfills, GrowNYC recycles clothing, linens, shoes and bags, belts, and fabric. The items are sorted by usable/non-usable cotton, cotton blend, and synthetics, and then sold for reuse as clothing and linens, or to recycling markets to be made into cleaning rags, fiber for car seats, and insulation.

Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe is part of the company’s effort to use the most sustainable methods possible in its production and it has set up more than 300 locations to make donating easier. The donated shoes are cut into three slices – the rubber outsole, the foam midsole, and the fiber upper – and then ground up. The rubber outsole is recycled into tract surfaces, gym flooring tiles, playground surfacing, and new Nike products. The foam midsole is used to cushion outdoor basketball and tennis courts, and the fiber uppers are used for cushioning pads for indoor synthetic and wood courts.

Kudos to all the companies and organizations that keep what too many of us see as trash out of the landfills. They find ways to reuse and recycle – and provide yet another reason for us to follow the “reduce, reuse, and recycle” credo as we declutter and downsize our homes.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home design, crafts, and foodand coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

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3 Responses

  1. I also recently toured a reuse clothing sorting facility in Burlington, Ontario to find out what happens to our donations: http://haltonrecycles.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/reuse-and-recycle-clothing-to-help-the-environment/

  2. […] Less garbage taken to the landfills means a happier, healthier planet for all of us. See a post here about donating rather than putting things in the […]

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