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Textile Recycling in the Changing Global Market


7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 1130 Bethesda, Maryland 20814 Phone:(301)656-1077 Fax:(301)656-1079 E-Mail: WebPage:

An Overview of Textile Recycling

In the early 1990's the United States Air Force unveiled a new fighter plane that was undetectable by radar. Due to its unusual shape and materials, the new A-117 Stealth Fighter could secretly fly into enemy territory and not be seen by radar. Not unlike this new stealth technology, textile recycling has been going on undetected by the general public for hundreds of years with little or no recognition. Back in the days of ancient Egypt, when great monuments were being created to commemorate dynasties, linen wiping cloths were being used by royal decorators to clean up the edges of painted friezes, murals, column capitals and a multitude of polishing and burnishing uses. Linen, the fabric of the Egyptians and all the races throughout early recorded time, was a durable, hand woven fabric made from flaxseed. It was the first recorded wiping material. Later Tutankhamun, Ramses and many others benefitted from its usefulness. This is the first documented evidence of textile recycling! Textiles, unlike other recycled commodities, has always been market driven. In recent years, local governments and communities have mandated collection programs of paper, plastics, glass, and textiles. Textiles were added later to collections because of their value.

were founded during the early 1900's and today are in the third, and even fourth, generations of ownership. Because the majority are small, closely held businesses, the general public is generally unaware of their existence and their contributions to society. However, what is particularly fascinating is that these firms are capable of recycling 93 percent of what they receivewhich is already considered a waste product! How is this possible? Where do these materials come from? How much is recycled? These are just a few of the questions that will be addressed in this chapter.

Pre-Consumer Materials
Pre-consumer textile materials are those items considered factory waste generated by apparel producers, textile manufacturers, knitting operations, nonwoven paper producers, needle punch producers, and dye houses. Examples would be clippings, cuttings, mill-ends, remnants, thread waste or goods damaged during production. Goods may also be attained through insurance sales, business closures, and damaged materials. These products are gathered by the manufacturer and shipped to a textile materials recovery facility (mrf) for sorting, grading, inspection, cutting, packaging and shipping. This segment of the industry began during the industrial revolution when textile manufacturing moved from the home to the factory. Industrial WipersOne of the end products derived from this process is institutional and industrial wipers. Industrial wipers are manufactured from raw materials supplied by both pre and post consumer sources. BackgroundIt was actually the last decade of the 19th century that "wipers" took on their own identity of a necessity of the Industrial Revolution. With the rapid growth of machinery manufactured to meet the needs of the expanding industrial revolution, fitting tolerances were kept looseas it took more time to machine close fits (tolerances) on moving parts. The demand for rapid production was too great. Consequently, machines such as locomotives, lathes, presses, engines, etc., with loose-fitting parts, leaked oil and had to be wiped down constantly.2 As the mighty machines grew in both number and size there was one constant factor, without wiping materials the plant could not operate. Machines became more sophisticated and complex while dust and grit became an ever growing problem to their successful operation. The demand for wiping materials grew exponentially.

A Simple Question
Suppose someone were to ask you a simple question: Have you used any materials made from recycled textile materials today? This may seem like an easy question at first, but one you might have to stop and think about for a few minutes. In all likelihood the answer is yes! If you rode in an automobile, handled paper currency, slept in a bed, sat on a couch, or used writing paper, you have been using materials made from recycled textiles.

Textiles are defined as items that are made from woven or knitted cloth, such as wool and cotton fibers, vinyl and other artificial fabrics, and items made from fur or other animal skins.1 The industry is divided by companies dealing with "pre-consumer" and "post-consumer" textiles waste. While there are no two companies that do exactly the same thing exactly the same way, there are some commonalities. The textile recycling industry, with approximately 3,000 companies, is made up of mostly small, family owned businesses. Many of these companies

'Textile Recycling, Waste Age Magazine, Ed Jablonowski and John Carlton, January 1995, p. 83.

The Wiping Materials Story, International Association of Wiping Cloth Manufacturers, 1982, p. 17.

In 1919, new mill ends began to surface and items such as gauze remnants, unbleached sheeting and misprints from various printing mills were offered to the wiping materials industry in sizable quantities. The clean mill ends were purchased by wiping cloth manufacturers for processing. The volume expanded year after year until many old rags were supplanted by mill ends in the wiping materials industry. It is interesting to note that from World War I and onward, a large segment of the industry washed various cotton fabrics to produce wiping cloths. Examples of this were window shades, which had crinoline and sizing which was washed out. Also, sugar bags and flour bags which were made of cotton, were cut open and washed. Today, each dealer has their own standards for grading the material. The number of grades available will vary depending on the sophistication of the wiper dealer. Both pre and post consumer textiles are sorted in a similar manner. This cloth is then separated by cotton content or by fabric type, such as knits, wovens, and toweling. The material may be further separated within more specific categories such as tee shirts, polo jerseys, fleece, sheeting, flannel, oxford, towels, linens, etc; These textiles can be sorted again into white and color (color versus white tee shirt), dark and light colors (darker flannel shirts versus lighter flannel pajamas), or heavy and light weight material (shirts and blouses versus pants an denim). The possibilities are almost infinite and are determined by both the particular market area and by the end user's requirements. After separation and grading, the material is cut. There are very few options for cutting. Materials are cut into wipers by hand; using a one or two arm "rag cutter," which has a smooth enclosed rotating blade. The operator either stands or sits while guiding the clothing through the blade. The arms and the legs of clothing are cut open, buttons and pockets are removed. Several preconsumer textiles such as mill ends or roll goods, may be cut on tables or on advanced automated machinery. There are wiping materials which are cut in clean room environments and are highly specialized for high tech and specific manufacturing operations. These materials are uniform and are certified to contain no more than a specific number of lint particles. Other uses would include the automotive industry and circuit manufacturing. Once cut, the wipers are either boxed or baled and prepared for shipment to the end users directly or through wholesale suppliers. Large items such as sheeting or mill remnants are cut to a specific size. The size of the wiper is determined by the weight of the fabric. The wiper should cover one's hand when "scrunched" in the palm of the hand. Since lighter weight fabric can be compressed easily, the wipers are usually cut into larger pieces. As a result, wipers can often vary in size but are generally cut into squares of 15 by 15 inches. Both pre and post consumer textiles are used for

cleaning surfaces in all types of manufacturing, automotive, janitorial, and food service applications. The type of wiper (size, color, cotton content) used by particular business or industry is specifically determined by its application within the operation. Some examples of this are: white, pastel or unbleached wipers are used in industry where chemicals might cause the release of color. For example, cheesecloth and gauze, are used predominantly for staining or polishing. Furniture manufacturers, automotive paint, body shops would require low linting and soft textured materials. Colored wipers are used mainly to absorb or clean grease, oil, or any other industrial surface. The product is sold to both government and private industry. The United States General Services Administration estimates that it uses pounds of wipers per year. Delivery of these materials is done via UPS, common carriers, or company owned trucks. PricingPrices for both new textile materials and manufactured wiping cloths are determined by supply and demand. Pre-consumer textile remnants could be low priced, while the post consumer equivalent could be high. For example, corduroy made a recent fashion comeback, so the price on new corduroy remnants are low priced. If the corduroy has not been in style for a number of years, there would be very little in the waste stream resulting in a price rise. When cloth diapers had a brief comeback, diaper wiping cloth prices fell. Now that disposable diapers dominate the market, used cloth diapers are virtually non-existent, and therefore very costly. Like other recyclables, supply and price are cyclical.

Clippings and Cuttings

Clippings and cuttings are scraps of materials left over from the sewing room floors of apparel manufacturers and other industrial textile users. They arrive at the textile mrf from their facility of origin by way of truck or van packed in boxes, bags, or baled in various sizes and weights. The material is taken to the work area, inspected, and sorted by hand where it is first tested for cotton content. Wool and synthetic fiber are checked in a similar manner. Single component fibers are most often likely to be recycled and would have te highest value in the market. The materials are then sorted by size, material content, color, and waste. All unuseable items are removed such as markers, paper, cones, and assorted debris that would not be deemed acceptable in the shipment to the customer. Keeping waste clean and free of contaminants can enhance the chances it can be recycled as well as give it more value, but even that won't guarantee it can be used in the limited markets

available for these kinds of waste.3 The various packings of clippings and cuttings are sorted within the categories of various fiber, content, and color. Separating color is the easiest way to begin. White material is separated from the colored material and generally commands the highest value. The next step, for both colored and white material, is the cotton content stage. One hundred percent cotton, polyester-cotton, and 100 percent polyester represent the general packing of clippings. The contents of these grades vary and are tailored to the end-users needs. Other fiber grades (such as nylon, acrylic, polyester, and polypropylene) are organized in a similar fashion. At the final stage of handling, the clippings and cuttings are sorted into approximately 1,000 pound bales. These bales are placed in inventory until ready for shipment to their destination in full truck or container lots that eclipse the 40,000 pound mark. Often, these clippings and cuttings are sent to a reprocessing operation where the materials are chopped and torn apart by large machines. The finished product, known in the trade as shoddy, is both sold domestically and exported. The primary uses for this product are stuffing for cushions and pillows in the furniture hades, and for the manufacture of padding in the form of carpet underlay, mattress padding, and molded padding used in the automotive industry. It can also be used as stuffing for spill containment booms and in caskets. One newer application for this material is open-end spinning. Here, the shoddy is sorted by color and is spun into yarn. This process alleviates the need for dying and creates a lower end yarn product suitable for opening price socks, sweaters, and gloves. With the finished product the recycling process is brought full circle. Examples of high-end products are cotton knit rags or flat-knit tee shirts because they are clean, can be processed back into the fiber stage, and can be blended into "bleached shoddy," which has applications in hygiene products such as cotton swabs and cotton found in bottles containing prescriptions and other medicines. Colored thread wastes, on the other hand, are a lower grade that is frequently used for export, as are textiles composed largely of synthetic fibers such as nylon, polyester, and acrylic. New YamTextile recyclers in Italy and South Asia are big users of this material, particularly wool, and polyester. A product known as "tri-blend" wools contains a large percentage of reprocessed fibers. Companies in this segment of the industry buy pre sorted fiber and re-spin it into yarn.

Paper ManufacturingThe paper manufacturing industry is, and has been traditionally the greatest user of 100 percent cotton bleached rags. In Japan, 100 percent cotton bleached rags are used in the production of mushrooms.

Post-consumer Textiles
Recycling is defined many ways, but the highest form of recycling is reusewhere minimal amounts of energy and resources have to be used to convert the material to another form. Post-consumer textile product waste comprises about four to six percent of the residential waste.4 Examples of post consumer waste is clothing, drapes, towels, sheets and blankets, table cloths, belts, handbags, paired shoes and socks, and clean rags. It is estimated there are today 2,000 companies involved with diverting 2.6 billion pounds of post consumer textile materials from the waste stream. This 2.6 billion pounds of material represents 10 pounds for every person in the United States. Of this amount, approximately 500 million pounds are used by the collecting agency, with the balance sold to textile recyclers, including used clothing dealers and exporters, wiper manufacturers and fiber recyclers. More than 60 percent of these materials are for the export market. CollectionsCharitable institutions collect the majority of used textiles in the U.S. Some organizations utilize a drop-off center, drop-off box, or telephone routing system where a truck will do collections door-to-door on a regular schedule. Curb-side collection programs are becoming more popular across the country as municipalities include textiles in their programs. Today, more municipalities are deciding to add textiles to the existing collection programs to meet their goals and quotas. At curb-side textiles are typically placed in a separate compartment on the recycling truck or picked up with the paper. In some casies, the textile mrf will supply a special plastic bag for textile collections. Bags are either dropped off at each home or distributed through the schools, grocery stores, or other method. Ideally, the textiles should be brought indoors for sorting* baling, and loading into trailers. Some of the larger non profit collection agencies are Goodwill Industries International, Inc., The Salvation Army, and St. Judes. These three organizations are the major collection forces within North America and have established drop-off centers. Proceeds from these operations are used for their charitable and rehabilitation efforts to help the disadvantaged. Because they collect far more than they can sell in their stores, the excess materials are sold by weight to individual textile mrf s. Other organizations, who go under another name, most frequently use telephone routing in suburban and urban areas. Telephone banks are set up and

"Recycle~If you Can!" by Penny Kron, Apparel Industry Magazine, September 1992, p. 74.

Tnformation gathered from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

operators call residents in specific neighborhoods and ask them to set their items on the front porch for pick-up on a specific date. Porch pick ups help discourage scavengers from stealing or damaging the materials. Drop-off boxes are common sites in supermarket and shopping center parking lots. People bring their items to the box at their convenience. These boxes are sponsored by a charitable organization or can be placed their by a private business. Over the years, the problem with collection boxes has been pilferage, people placing raw garbage in the boxes, and the failure of the sponsoring organization to make regular pick-ups. It is for these reasons that many organizations have abandoned this collection method in favor of manned collection centers. Economies of collectionMunicipal recycling officials are concerned with the costs of adding new items to their existing collection costs. Therefore, before textiles are added, there is a considerable amount of planning that is needed before a program is put in place. First, estimates must be made to determine frequency of collection, whether the vehicle's compartments can handle the additional volume, and what the variable costs are in handling an additional item. Secondly, how are the items going to be processed? Will the municipality be responsible for separating the textiles from the paper? Or will textiles be collected in plastic bags? Will the items be baled? If so, can the current machinery be used or will an additional bale machine be needed? (It is recommended that vertical balers be used as horizontal machines often shear the materials.) As cities and counties are forced to meet mandated recycling goals, textiles are becoming more attractive. One reason for this is that there is constant demand for used clothing and the revenue received for these goods helps off set the expenses for collecting other recyclables. In some communities textiles have help offset collection costs often to 20 percent. Here are some tips for starting a municipal textile collection program: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Educate local recycling organizers as to the importance of including textiles in their collection programs. If possible, work with local charitable programs already in place. Notify states recycling officials and encourage them to include textiles in their recycling goals. Work with haulers at the local level to fit textiles into their collections. Contract with a textile recycler to buy goods. Educate residents on how to handle their discarded textile items.

7. 8.

Conduct regularly scheduled programs and publicize success stories. Remember-Education and promotion are key to the success of every program.

Carroll County, Iowa; St. Paul, Minnesota; San Jose, California; and Somerset County, New Jersey are examples of municipalities that have curbside collection programs in place. Aberdeen, Maryland collects textiles at curbside once a year as does the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County, Florida. Calvert and Montgomery Counties, Maryland and Cobb County, Georgia, have added textiles to a long list of materials accepted at drop-off sites.5 Some of these municipal programs have partnered with local charities and nonprofit organizations. The City of Los Angeles is working with the Salvation Army in select neighborhoods to collect textiles. Unlike other recycled materials that are collected at curbside, (bottles, glass, plastics, cans, and newspapers), textiles must be kept dry at all times during the collection process. Natural fiber textiles will decompose or become moldy if wet. Although rare, such decomposition can generate heat which could lead to spontaneous combustion and cause facility fires when stored in baled form. That is why clothing must be kept clean and dry during the collection process. Textile recyclers pay from $80 to $150 per ton for the materials. This used clothing is received at the mrf in large bales of approximately 1,000 pounds each. Because the clothing is mixed it must first be sorted and inspected. For example, it may go through a primary sort where the graders are looking for certain products that may be sold domestically for vintage clothing stores and thrift shops. The clothing can be sorted in literally hundreds of different ways depending on the used clothing dealer's markets. The typical used clothing mrf will sort men's shirts, suits, pants, children clothing, tee shirts, polo shirts, women's blouses, pants, coats, paired shoes etc. Vintage clothingPopular clothing from past generations is still popular today! Jeans, prom dresses, evening gowns, shoes, leather jackets, bowling shirts are just a few examples of the items sold in today's vintage clothing stores. Styles from the 50's 60's, and 70's are often made popular again by college students and are often seen in the movies and Broadway plays. Vintage clothing shops today are found everywhereeven the trendiest shopping areas. Once sorted and inspected, these textile materials are then repackaged

Weaving Textile Reuse into Waste Reduction, Institute for Local Self Reliance, Washington, D.C. 1997. ,.-*v

for shipment to international markets. Currently, these markets exist mostly in developing countries such as Africa, South and Central America, and the Far East. Pricing--Pricing of used clothing is extremely elastic. For the purposes of this discussion, used clothing should be viewed as a commodity such as wheat or apples as priced is determined based upon supply and demand, world economic conditions, the strength of the U.S. dollar, shipping conditions, freight rates, and tariff schedules. Another situation that dictates trade is when war or civil strife breaks out in a particular export country. When this happens trade comes to a halt because transportation within that country is dangerous, and there is very little hard currency to pay for the goods. There are also issues such as the availability of insurance under these circumstances that makes exporting a very dangerous and risky endeavor. Depending upon the markets, prices also vary according to the types and condition of the clothing. Because not all the clothing sorted at a textile mrf is suitable for reuse, ripped or stained items may be sold for the shoddy operation where it will be used as auto insulation, industrial wipers, roofing materials, and in blankets. It is estimated that less than 40 percent of every bale contains items suitable for export as used clothing. As a result, the majority of bale is often converted to materials other than clothing that is sold below the cost of the bale. In order to cover costs, the used clothing must be efficiently handled and processed and sold at a price that covers those materials that are sold off at losses. As mentioned earlier, most recycling firms are small, family owned businesses, with fewer than 500 employees. The majority of these companies have between 35 and 100 employees and industry sales are estimated at $700 million. These recycling firms are usually inner city employers and hire people from the nearby communities who might otherwise be unemployable. Many of the workers are unskilled, semi-skilled, or physically challenged. At the same time, these businesses through their taxes contribute to the revenue bases of federal, state, and local governments. Used ClothingThe used clothing market is very abstract in terms of market, pricing, and at best difficult to estimate. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, used clothing is this country's eighth largest export item behind automotive parts and wheat.

etc. are removed. These materials are then boxed or baled and shipped elsewhere for use in other various industries. ShoddyMaterials neither suitable for clothing or wipers is sent to a fiber converter. Here the clothing is machined and garnetted. Garnetting is the process of chopping, ripping, and tearing the material so as to return it to a fibrous state. From this blend of fibers comes high quality carpet underlay for commercial and residential use, mattress filler, stuffing for pillows and cushions, insulation for housing, deck panels and sound deadening materials for the automotive industry. Another use of shoddy is the re-introduction of the reprocessed fiber into the manufacturing process by the manufacturer who generated the waste originally. This is the process which is referred to as "commission picking." Of the two types of textile waste, pre-consumer and post consumer, preconsumer waste will logically begin to diminish as a result of increased efficiencies, the production moving off-shore, and through overall source reduction. At the same time, many manufacturers today are finding their own ways to reprocess the textiles. Some companies have installed their own fiber picking/processing machinery.

As long as textile manufacturing plants generate large amounts of waste, there will be a large marketplace for dealers and brokers. Today's manufacturers want to be able to make their waste disappear. The manufacturer may or may not expect revenue in return. The generator may be satisfied to avoid disposal costs. It is not unusual for brokers and dealers to earn five to ten percent by moving the pre-consumer materials. On the selling side, many of the users of shoddy are small to medium sized companies who do not bid their raw material purchases. One of the larger users of shoddy is the automotive industry that uses this material to deaden sound. There is nearly 80 pounds of this material in every automobile. It can be found in the door panels, roof liner, under the hood, and in the trunk! Once a product is found that works, there is significant reluctance to change suppliers. These factors reinforce the strength of a broker or dealer network. Market intelligence on new manufacturers, new products, and changing raw materials needs which are the "bread and butter" of a successful dealer/broker also reinforce the value and thereby the existence of a broker/dealer network. Many companies have found the use of brokers/dealers in addition to direct sales as a very economical way to gain market information from various parts of the United States and around the world.

Items Unsuitable for Clothing

WipersFor example, clothing that is graded out to be unsuitable for wear because it is too worn, stained or torn, can be cut into wipe cloths. Fabrics used most often in this process are corduroy, denim, flannel, and knits. These individual pieces are often cut into wiper size after the buttons, zippers, collars,

Conclusion: Although textile recycling has been taking place for literally thousands of years, it is just now being discovered by municipal recycling and government officials as a method of further reducing the amount of waste being deposited into our nation's landfills. It is estimated that only 15 percent of textile materials are being diverted from the waste stream for recycling purposes. More can and is being done to recapture these vital resources. Unlike other recyclables whose collections are mandated by government, textile materials have been market driven. For example, demand for high quality, low cost industrial wipers, used clothing, fiber, and related materials have made this a profitable industry for decades. More than 90 percent of the "waste" that is received by this industry is recyclable. Today, communities of all sizes from across North America and Europe are aggressively exploring new ways to economically collect these materials. The key to their success will depend on their ability to educate their citizenry about the importance of properly disposing of their textile materials and buying products made with recycled textile content. Each community should carefully review their collection programs and consider adding textiles to the mix. By either working directly with a local charity or through a used clothing recycler, recycling coordinators can develop programs to remove textiles from the waste stream.

For more information: Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association 7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 1130 Bethesda, MD 20814 email: Phone:301/656-1077 Fax:301/656-1079 Council for Textile Recycling 7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 1130 Bethesda, MD 20814 Phone:301/718-0671 Fax:301/656-1079 Institute for Local Self Reliance 2425 18 th St.,N.W. Washington, DC 20009-2096 www.ilsr.ogr email: Phone:202/232-4108 Fax:202/332-0463


Special thanks to the following members of the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association and the Council for Textile Recycling for their contributions. Their time, effort, and patience in gathering this information was greatly appreciated. Bernard Brill, SMART Executive Vice President Harry Blakeslee, Talbert Trading Corp., Worcester, Ma. Scott Cynamon, Cyntex Co., Hartsdale, N.Y. Reuven Bloch, Row Clothing Enterprises Inc., Baltimore, Md. Richard Daniels, Oscar Daniels Co., Inc., Reading, Pa. Laurence Groipen, ERC Wiping Products, Inc., Canton, Ma. Jon Hines, Indiana Wiping Cloth, Inc., Mishawaka, In. Danny Raffle, Atlas Mill Supply, Los Angeles, Ca. Lyn Silberman, Albert E. Silberman & Co., Inc., Cleveland, Oh. Edward Stubin, Trans-Americas Trading Co., N.Y. Stephanie Zeldin, Martex Fiber Corp., Spartanburg, S.C.