From Trash to Cash: Fundraising through Textile Recycling
Did you know that almost any textile can find a second life once you’re done with it? Many people know they can donate gently used clothing to thrift stores and other charitable organizations, but don’t know that almost every other type of textile or clothing—including garments that are stained or have holes, and accessories like belts and shoes—can be repurposed or recycled regardless of condition. Of course, recycling is great for the environment, but there’s another benefit with a much more direct impact: your school can earn money by partnering with a textile recycler and collecting donated used textiles at the school—and it won’t cost you anything.
At Bay State Textiles (“BST” for short), 2020 marks our 15th anniversary in the textile recycling business. In the Q&A below, we’d like to describe our industry and then tell you our story. Our hope is that once you learn about the great benefits we can offer your municipality, your school, and the environment, you’ll consider partnering with us to reduce landfill waste and help others in need while earning tangible benefits for your school, town, or organization.
Why Should I Recycle Textiles?
It takes about 2000 gallons of water to make a single pair of jeans. In fact, the fashion industry is second only to fossil fuel in terms of carbon footprint. Yet despite this enormous expenditure of resources, approximately 85 percent of all unwanted clothing ends up in landfills. There is another use for almost any textile you can think of and no reason to simply throw these items away when you’re through with them. Additionally, recycling and reclaiming textiles results in a larger return on investment when compared with recycling almost any other material, including aluminum, plastic, and glass. Reclaiming unwanted textiles has substantial benefits for our economy and environment.
What Textiles Can Be Recycled?
BST accepts the good, the bad, and the ugly; in short, almost any kind of clothing, accessories, or linens, as long as they are clean and dry. Note that “clean” does not mean stain-free; it means simply that the item has been washed prior to recycling and has no odor. We’ll even accept your old underwear! On our website, you can find a complete list of the materials that we accept. Please check the list, as some items may surprise you. And if you’re in doubt, go ahead and donate the item anyway—we’ll figure out what to do with it.
What Happens to Textiles Once They’re Recycled?
Approximately half of all discarded clothing is in wearable condition and there is substantial global demand, especially in developing countries, for good, wearable used clothing. A smallused clothing dealer in Africa will average $10/day selling clothes, whereas a factory worker in Africa will earn, on average, $1/day. Used garments provide both needed clothing and stable jobs to those who sell them.
When discarded textiles can’t be used as clothing, a substantial percentage can be recycled or repurposed into other goods. For example, if a garment is absorbent but is torn or stained, it can be cut into wiping rags. Or, if a damaged garment is made of synthetic material, it will end up in fiber conversion, making new materials such as carpet padding and insulation.
How Did Bay State Textiles First Begin?
BST was founded in 2005 by Paul Curry. Curry approached several municipalities and explained that this commodity was plentiful and had value. Bay State Textiles was the first to offer municipalities rebate dollars for unwanted textiles. In 2012, BST expanded its operations, launching a pilot program in two school systems. The school program became so successful that as of today, BST services more than 700 schools in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
How Does Bay State Textiles Benefit Its Community Partners?
Bay State Textiles refers to the rebate program as the “triple win” for our municipal and school partners:
- Students are learning firsthand the benefits of recycling.
- Schools are generating passive rebate dollars for school programs and PTOs. In 2019 alone, Bay State paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in rebates.
- Taxpayers are saving on tipping fees.
Obviously, there are global economic and environment benefits from reclaiming unwanted textiles, as well. Since its founding, BST has diverted tens of millions of pounds of usable textiles from landfills.
Why Has the Bay State Textiles Business Model Been So Successful?
First, BST has focused relentlessly on customer service from day one. Betsy Harris, Community Relations Liaison for Weymouth Public Schools, cited BST’s “exceptional service,” prompt response every time we’re contacted by a school representative, and consistent pickup of items from full donation bins either the same or next day. Harris also highlighted the proven financial benefits for schools participating in the BTS rebate program, noting that partnering with BTS provides “peace of mind” because schools know that BTS is responsibly managing the materials donated to put them to their best next use. In Harris’s words, “I cannot say enough about Paul and his crews. They are just so wonderful. The program basically just runs itself. It requires almost no effort on our part. And this is something that our schools and families don’t have to pay anything for. It is such a wonderful service.”
I cannot say enough about Paul and his crews. They are just so wonderful. The program basically just runs itself. It requires almost no effort on our part.
Second, BST has been reliable and responsible. Claire Galkowski, Executive Director of the South Shore Recycling Co-op, another BST partner, observed that “so many companies have come and gone” in the 15 years BST has been in business. For many of those companies, she said, “pricing has been all over the place. But BST has been one of the few steady outlets for material that is too good for the trash. In the crazy world of recycling and trash, having a reliable service provider for 15 years is a most valued relationship!”
Third, BST works with all types of municipalities and school systems, whether big or small, rural or urban, to develop recycling programs that meet their needs. Participation is not one-size-fits-all; instead, BTS will tailor a program to meet the needs of any individual partner.
What Does the Future Hold for Bay State Textiles?
BTS continues to expand its programs in Massachusetts and Connecticut and hopes to eventually expand into Rhode Island and beyond.
What Should You Look for in a Potential Textile Recycling Partner?
Many things can go wrong in the textile recycling business. Textile recyclers need to maintain consistency in pricing on both the front and back ends and provide consistent, reliable service. Many newer companies will try to “buy” their way into business by promising rebates they can’t sustain, and many are unfamiliar with either the logistics necessary to export textiles to other countries or the many complications that can arise in the process.
If you’re interviewing or vetting vendors, take a holistic approach and ask for (and then contact) references from existing partners. Questions to consider include:
- How long have the current owners been in this industry?
- Can you visit their warehouse?
- Can you review data from other municipalities in the area?
- Where are they based? Out of state? If so, why would they start something here when there is so much material in their home state?
- Do they pay the same rebate to all their partners? If not, why not?
- How do they track weights for each collection area or box?
- Where do donations end up?
- How much and what kind of experience does the current ownership have in export markets?
Finally, a proven record of maintaining consistent, excellent service is paramount.
If you’re interested in partnering with Bay State Textiles to start a recycling program in your community or school, please visit our website, call us at 617-877-2432, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org today!