SMART member companies that fall within the "processor" category sort, grade and reprocess used clothing and household textiles during the recycling process. At the facilities where the collected clothing and textiles are sorted, the items are then made into large bales to be re-sold. The newly created bales of used clothing may be re-sold within the United States, although most often the products are shipped overseas to developing markets in Asia, Africa, Europe, or Central and South America.
Companies within the "processor" category also utilize textiles from clothing manufacturers; called "mill ends" these are scraps of textile left over during the manufacturing process. Textile processors also collect items from industrial laundries that are deemed to be unfit to be used by the laundry's clients. These items are sorted and bleached to make them more absorbent before they are cut into wiping cloths.
Another segment of the used clothing recycling industry are companies that re-process used clothing back into their original fiber. These companies create blends of fiber that are sold in bales to companies that re-manufacture the fiber content into new products. These products include: home insulation (made from the denim of reprocessed blue jeans), stuffing for furniture, athletic equipment, and pet bedding, automotive soundproofing, and carpet padding among many other new products.
The business practices of many SMART member companies fall under more than one category. Often, companies that grade and sort used clothing, also convert many of the items they handle into industrial wiping and polishing cloths. Converting used clothing into wiping cloths is a labor-intensive process as much of the work is done by hand. Not only does this mean the used clothing recycling industry employs many semi-skilled individuals; it also means the process is very environmentally friendly as there is minimal use of equipment to sort, cut, and package the newly created wiping cloths.
SMART members help to REINTRODUCE recovered or second-quality materials into the marketplace, extending the life of unwanted or excess textiles.
Used clothing that is not suitable to be made into wiping cloths can still be re-processed back into its original fiber content; SMART estimates 20% of used clothing falls into this sector of the industry. Once the clothing items are reduced back to fiber, the newly created fibers are then remanufactured into new products. These new products include: upholstery, home insulation, automobile sound-proofing, carpet padding, building materials and various other products.
Yes! Worldwide, there is a big push for companies to promote "green" products. Many people are surprised to learn that reclaimed wipers are actually better for the environment than laundered shop towels because they decrease our global carbon footprint. A few facts:
- 17 gallons of water and 66 BTUs of energy are used to create one cotton shop towel where no water or energy is used when creating a reclaimed wiper (recycled rag);
- Contaminants found in laundry waste water for cotton shop towels contain lead, toluene, xylene, zinc and other heavy metals. The EPA estimates that five million pounds of untreated contaminants per year flow into our waterways from laundered shop towels;
- Most recycled wiper products are manufactured from recycled textiles that have been diverted from landfills;
- Cotton, used to make shop towels, is the most pesticide-dependent crop in the world. In fact, most cotton shop towels are manufactured outside of North America from virgin cotton fibers;
- When manufacturing cotton towels, dyeing requires a hefty amount of water and its fixatives often flow into rivers and sewers. Using recycled textiles promotes clean water and conservation.
SMART encourages local jurisdictions that are seeking to expand their "green" sustainable programs to require the use of new or reclaimed wipers within their facilities. Local jurisdictions which operate clothing and textile recycling programs can "close the loop" by incorporating new or reclaimed wipers into their purchasing practices.
Many SMART members also handle rag-like disposable wipers, which are mostly converted product from pre-consumer waste from U.S- based non-woven textile mills that have strict requirements for the materials they manufacture. While these materials are often restricted with regard to application and usage, they offer a better alternative with regard to size, performance, ie. highly absorbent, strong, low lint, and often offer a cost savings as compared to rental shop towels.
SMART has established Codes of Conduct whereby its members have agreed to abide by the ethical and moral standards outlined by the Association, thus distinguishing SMART members from other companies in the industry. Most SMART member companies are family-owned businesses with fewer than 500 employees. The majority of these companies employ between 35 and 50 workers, many of whom are semi-skilled workers. The used clothing recycling industry provides meaningful jobs for more than an estimated 20,000 people in the United States.
SMART member processor companies are your first resource for any questions you may have about recycling used clothing in your area. SMART members can also assist you in starting a used clothing collection program by providing the equipment and/or services you may need to recycle used clothing and household textiles and to keep them out of a landfill.
SMART member companies process goods in various ways:
- By making industrial wiping cloths from pre-consumer waste collected from clothing manufacturers;
- By making industrial wiping cloths from used clothing and other household textiles;
- By re-processing used clothing and other textiles back into their original fiber form. New products are then made from the re-claimed fiber;
- By purchasing the items not sold from major charitable organizations, also from local consignment and thrift shops;
- By sponsoring recycling events with local governments, community organizations and charities;
- By collecting the remnants (mill ends) from clothing manufacturers;
- And, by providing the outlet for goods collected from curbside recycling programs (where available).
Every year, SMART's member companies, other for-profit clothing recyclers, and charitable organizations prevent more than 4 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste from being placed into landfills and incinerators.
Work with a SMART member today!