Dallas-based company recycles clothing internationally while helping local nonprofits
By Julie Thibodeaux
Wanted: Used clothing - rips, stains, holes and all. According to World Wear Project, a Dallas-based textile collection company, those clothes can provide income for charities, jobs for unskilled laborers, materials for other industries while keeping waste out of the landfill.
The for-profit company, founded in 2010 by Scott Birnbaum, provides metal donation boxes throughout North Texas to collect used clothing. The blue metal bins are sponsored by charities, which are paid by the pound for items collected.
According to Eileen Birnbaum, World Wear Project spokesperson, many people mistakenly believe that they should only donate “gently used” clothing to charity. However, she said almost every piece of clothing can be repurposed. “We want to discourage everyone from throwing away what they think isn’t wearable,” said Birnbaum, an avid recycler. “Too much goes into the landfill.” In addition to clothes, World Wear Project accepts shoes, belts, purses, wallets, hats, caps, backpacks, toys, stuffed animals, pots, pans, sheets, towels and curtains. (Eileen Birnbaum’s son Jeff meets a Tanzanian resident wearing a Texas Rangers cap that likely came from the closet of a North Texas resident)
Birnbaum said the items are stockpiled at the company’s Dallas warehouse where they are baled and shipped to processing centers in Pakistan, Dubai, India, Chile and Malaysia to be hand-sorted. The highest quality clothing and household items are then sold in resale outlets in Pakistan, Tanzania, Kenya, Guatemala, Chile and Honduras. Unwearable items are shipped back to Dallas and made into rags used by the oil, janitorial and paint supply industries. The lowest grade material is used for car insulation, stuffing or fiber. (Photo: World Wear Project resale outlet in Tanzania, Africa)
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, textiles make up about 5 percent of the solid waste in municipal landfills. Only about 15 percent of textiles are recycled in the U.S. Much more can be recycled. According to the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles, an industry advocacy group based in Maryland, almost all of donated textiles are reused. Of those, 45 percent is resold as usable clothing, with about 30 percent turned into wiping cloths and a little more than 20 percent used for its fiber to make other products.
World Wear Project’s parent company, Reclaimed Textiles Co., has been collecting unmarketable clothing from institutions and resale shops, including Goodwill and Salvation Army, since 1994. Its fleet of 13 trucks run weekly routes spanning a 300-mile region, with stops in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Texas. The company collected 41 million pounds of clothing in 2011.
Since launching World Wear Project, Birnbaum said their company not only recycles textile waste, but provides a way for charities large and small to benefit. Birnbaum said in addition to helping nonprofits, schools and churches, World Wear Project will partner with neighborhoods and scout groups that want to host a short-term campaign. D.A.R.E., an international drug abuse education program, has more than 100 World Wear Project donation bins throughout the Metroplex. The group makes more than $40,000 annually on the North Texas collection sites, which helps pay for training and textbooks.
John Lindsey, spokesperson for D.A.R.E., said he works with two other clothing collection companies in the California and the Mid-Atlantic area. Combined, the donation collection bins pay for about 10 percent of the organization’s expenses. Lindsey said the income fills a gap left when federal funding was cut off a few years ago. “That could have been devastating,” he said. “We turned a negative into a positive.” Birnbaum agreed. “It’s a win-win-win,” she said. “We win because we get the product, [the nonprofit] wins because they get money.” In addition, the company provides affordable clothing to the poor and jobs for people who work in the industry, she said. “It also provides one more use for that item before it goes to the landfill.”
For more information, go to http://worldwearproject.com
Sign up for the weekly Green Source DFW Newsletter to stay up to date on everything green in North Texas, the latest news and events.
Julie Thibodeaux, covers environmental issues, green topics and sustainable living for Green Source DFW. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Contact her at Julie@greensourcedfw.org.