Power To Save: USAgain Keeps Clothing Out Of Landfills

WILKES-BARRE — USAgain is helping keep millions of tons of clothing and shoes from going into landfills and the company has a warehouse in Wilkes-Barre.

You drop it, we ship it, let’s use it again! That’s the logo on bins and trucks at USAgain’s warehouse in Luzerne County.

Workers unload bags full of used clothes and shoes placed in USAgain bins all across northeastern Pennsylvania. Those used clothes and shoes people wanted to get rid of may have ended up in a landfill.

“We collected about 5 million pounds of unwanted clothes last year.  It’s equivalent to 1,200 full garbage trucks that would have gone to a landfill,” said USAgain manager Pete Palmiero.

But all the used clothing will not head to landfills. Instead the clothes and shoes will get packed up and sent all across the country, and even to other countries. There they’ll go to thrift stores, and organizations that will sort them, and get them to people in need.

“The clothes and shoes get a second life into foreign countries and the U.S. where people of limited means can buy the clothes inexpensively,” Palmiero said.

You can drop off your clothes at any USAgain bin you see. And the company collects any type of clothing, even if the clothing is in bad shape.

“Clothes that are unusable don’t get reused. They get recycled into insulation, or some go into used rags.”

Palmiero says a USAgain warehouse will add more workers during the summer when clothing collections are at their highest.

Palmiero adds any business can have a USAgain bin on their property, and help give back to the environment.

4 comments

  • Sean G

    Some people seem to forget that companies recycling glass, paper and plastic all make profits, too. Looks to me like USAgain is applying the same concept to textiles. I have a hard time finding a gripe with a company that creates jobs and limits waste.

  • Wade Larsen

    I’d like to further respond to this story.

    1) Is it really true that those millions of pounds of clothes USAgain’s Pennsylvania division collected last year “would have gone to a landfill,” as manager Pete Palmiero claims? I seriously doubt it. Used clothes ― a highly valuable commodity ― are also collected by numerous organizations across the nation. Oxfam estimates the global trade in used clothing at over $1 billion annually. If USAgain did not collect the used clothing, most of it would surely be collected by other groups. So it is not the case that all of these items would likely end up in a landfill if USAgain did not collect them.

    2) USAgain, along with other for-profit clothes collectors and out-of-town nonprofits, are reportedly causing donations to dwindle at local charities. This raises the concern that there aren’t enough clothes donations to support all the groups collecting them, despite USAgain’s assurances to the contrary.

    3) The reporter says that some of USAgain’s clothing will “get … to people in need,” which some may infer to mean these clothes are being distributed for free. But then Mr. Palmiero more correctly points out that “people of limited means can buy these clothes inexpensively.” Translated to plain language, USAgain’s clothes are being sold — not given — to poor people.

    Much of the goods USAgain collects are shipped overseas to be sold to Africans and other foreigners. USAgain’s competitors do so as well. But critics say the flood of cheap American apparel into Africa has devastated that continent’s native textile industries.

    What happens to all those American clothes overseas once they’re completely worn out — even by the standards of Africa’s poorest? Reports by the United Nations and Uganda’s Makerere University say solid waste management in many African countries is woefully inadequate or even nonexistent in some places. These reports say that high percentages of urban solid waste don’t reach legal disposal points but rather end up in the environment. Open dumping is the most common waste disposal method in many urban areas.

    One might assume, then, that most old clothes collected in the USA and later sold in Africa likely won’t be recycled at the end of their useful life, but will be discarded as trash, which at best ends up in an *African* landfill, or, at worst, in an open pit or wetland.

    Are we, in effect, shipping our solid waste to poor countries that are far less prepared to properly dispose of it?

    Please research before you donate. Thank you for allowing me to express my opinions.

    • Sarah Nelson

      Unfortunately the local charities that Mr. Wade Larsen refers to are only open limited hours, they will only accept clothes that are in season and in good condition. These drops off bins will except any textiles and are accessible 24/7.

      The local charities also do not give the clothes away; they sell them to generate income to support their programs. I know that USAgain has a revenue sharing program that allows site hosts to donate the monies to a charity of their choice.

      I also find it hard to believe that the donations to the local charities are dwindling when the EPA estimates that only 15% of all textiles are re-used or recycled and that 85% still end up in landfills.

      I believe the more options we have to be environmentally conscious the better we are!

      • Wade Larsen

        Response to Sarah Nelson:

        1) Some nonprofits *do* accept ripped, unwearable clothing. The Wilkes Barre Salvation Army does.

        2) While USAgain’s bins may be convenient after hours, many cities across the USA claim that some of the boxes cause blight and public right-of-way issues (24/7 accessibility includes the trash-dumpers). And some towns’ officials complain that non-local companies are getting a free ride ― paying no local taxes or fees ― even though little or none of the proceeds from their collections benefit the local populace.

        3) Despite your disbelief, many media stories do report that groups like USAgain are causing donations to dwindle at local charities. Just a few excerpts:

        “Local nonprofits that provide free and low-cost used clothing report a dramatic decline in donations since a national for-profit recycler, USAgain, expanded its local presence.”
        — Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.; 2013.3.23

        “Legitimate non-profit organizations in Sioux Falls like Y’s Buys, that supports the YMCA, say they estimate they’ve lost out on thousands of pounds of donations ever since USAgain showed up two months ago.”
        — Keloland News, Sioux Falls, S.D.; 2012.10.25

        “In Decatur, charities believe they are missing out on items which could be put to good use locally, because donors are instead using the USAgain receptacles.”
        — Herald-Review, Decatur, Ill.; 2011.2.9

        Google search:
        Report: for-profit clothes bins hurting charities – YouTube

        4) You wrote: “…the EPA estimates that only 15% of all textiles are re-used or recycled and that 85% still end up in landfills.” Well, that’s not really true. You see, EPA data on clothing recycling pertains *only* to clothing estimated to have avoided the dump and to have been ‘recycled’ ― i.e., processed into new stuff. This means that EPA doesn’t track the vast quantities of re-wearable duds folks give away somewhere to be ‘re-used’.

        In my opinion, USAgain twists EPA data to make it seem that 85% of ‘re-wearable’ clothes are just thrown away. But as I say, all the reports on dwindling clothes donations strongly suggest that most old garments that do end up in a landfill are not wearable, but actually thread-bare or ripped. So, is USAgain really concerned about all that discarded un-wearable stuff? I think not, as the company has long hinted it prefers the more lucrative “gently used” items. In fact, in 2013, USAgain’s spokesman told Indiana’s South Bend Tribune that “about 70% to 80% of what USAgain collects is sold in the reused clothing market.”

        So much for USAgain’s claim to be a “leader in the textile recycling industry.”

        Folks need to learn that even their ‘non-wearables’ can be bagged up and taken preferably to a nonprofit like the Salvation Army or St. Vincent de Paul, which sells the stuff by the ton to be made into things like rags and insulation.

        5) Yes, for-profits and nonprofits alike may sell the collected goods, but we should ask where the money goes. USAgain is controversial. For example, in 2009, a Seattle TV news investigation suggested that USAgain “ …routinely pretended to be a charity so business owners wouldn’t ask for rent on the bin space.” Worse, Danish prosecutors link USAgain to an alleged cult called the “Tvind Teachers Group.” Five Teachers Group leaders are Interpol fugitives wanted in their native Denmark in connection with a multimillion-dollar tax-fraud and embezzlement scheme.

        So, is this a company you feel like supporting?

        A few more reports on USAgain. Google search:

        Millions In Clothing Donations Diverted From Charity – kirotv

        Local Mayor Wants Red Bins Out – USAgain in Seattle – YouTube

        [the 2nd video’s ‘description box’ has more on USAgain controversies. Click on ‘Show more’ while on that page.]

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