Recycling center
(Jackie Northam/NPR)
May 21, 2013

Global Afterlife of Your Donated Clothes

On a bright and warm Saturday morning, there's a steady flow of people dropping off donations at Martha's Table, a charity in downtown Washington, D.C. A mountain of plastic and paper bags stuffed with used dresses, scarves, skirts and footwear expands in one corner of the room. Volunteers sort and put clothes on hangers. They'll go on sale next door, the proceeds of which will help the needy in the area.

It's a scene played out across the U.S.: people donating their old clothes, whether through collection bins or through large charities, to help others.

Melissa Vanouse donates clothes a couple times a year.

"I think it all pretty much stays local, that's kind of the idea," she says.

But it doesn't. Martha's Table, like other charities, only has so much room and can only keep clothes for so long. At some point, charities call in a textile recycling company.

Varied Uses

About 80 percent of the donations are carted away by textile recyclers, says Jackie King, the executive director of Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles, a trade association for textile recyclers. She says that means about 3.8 billion pounds of clothing that is donated each year is recycled.

"Thirty percent of the materials are made into wiping cloths that are used in commercial and industrial use," she says.

About 20 percent of the donated clothes and textiles are converted into fibers that are then made into a variety of other products, including carpet padding, insulation for autos as well as homes, and pillow stuffing.

King says nearly half the donated clothes - about 45 percent - is exported.

A forklift shuttles large pallets stacked with bins of donated clothes at Mac Recycling on the outskirts of Baltimore. A large section of the warehouse is packed with colorful 800-pound bales of clothing ready to ship out.

Robert Goode, the owner of Mac Recycling, says textile recycling is a huge international industry. He says his small warehouse alone ships about 80 tons of clothes each week to buyers throughout the world, including Central America, South America, Asia, Africa and Europe.

"Pretty much you can pick any country and there's a market for these items," he says.

'Competitive Business'

Goode says when the shipment arrives overseas, a wholesaler will break down the bales and send the clothes into different markets. At each step along the way in this process, someone makes money from the donated clothes.

"It is an extremely competitive business ... items are bought and sold by the pound and you can literally make or lose a deal over half a cent a pound, quarter of a cent a pound," Goode says.

He says the business has changed dramatically over the years. Customers in foreign markets are now setting up their own operations in the U.S., cutting out a middleman. King, SMART's executive director, says textile recyclers are still finding strong demand for used clothing. But she says selling cheap garments, like those made in Bangladesh, is becoming increasingly difficult.

"I think one of the problems when they're trying to sell the clothing abroad is the distinction between what's good quality used clothing versus clothing that has maybe not been manufactured to the highest standards," she says.

King says ultimately she hopes that more clothes — of good quality — are donated every year. Her organization, SMART, says 85 percent of all the clothing sold each year ends up in landfill.

 Mark Barden, father of sandy hook victim
(Seth Perlman/AP)
May 20, 2013

Senate Panel Endorses Ammunition Limits

The Illinois Senate's Executive Committee voted 12-3 Monday to advance legislation banning magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

Ray Manzarek (far right) stands with fellow members of The Doors
(Express/Getty Images)
May 20, 2013

Ray Manzarek, Founding Member Of The Doors, Dies

Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist and a founding member of The Doors, died Monday in Germany. He was 74.

A statement from publicist Heidi Ellen Robinson-Fitzgerald said Manzarek died in Rosenheim, Germany, after a long battle with bile duct cancer.

Manzarek and Jim Morrison founded the iconic band after meeting in California. The Doors went on to become one of the most successful rock 'n' roll acts of the 1960s — and continues to have an impact decades after Morrison's death in 1971.

In an interview with NPR in 2000, Manzarek recalled the band's influences and its music:

  •     "We were aware of Muddy Waters. We were aware of Howlin' Wolf and John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Plus, Jan and Dean and The Beach Boys and the surf sound. Robby Krieger brings in some flamenco guitar. I bring a little bit of classical music along with the blues and jazz, and certainly John Densmore was heavy into jazz. And Jim brings in beatnik poetry and French symbolist poetry, and that's the blend of The Doors as the sun is setting into the Pacific Ocean at the end, the terminus of Western civilization. That's the end of it. Western civilization ends here in California at Venice Beach, so we stood there inventing a new world on psychedelics."

Here's more from the publicist's statement:

  •     "After Morrison's death in 1971, Manzarek went on to become a best-selling author, and a Grammy-nominated recording artist in his own right. In 2002, he revitalized his touring career with Doors' guitarist and long-time collaborator, Robby Krieger."

"I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my friend and bandmate Ray Manzarek today," Krieger said. "I'm just glad to have been able to have played Doors songs with him for the last decade. Ray was a huge part of my life, and I will always miss him."

Manzarek is survived by his wife, Dorothy; his brothers, Rick and James Manczarek; his son, Pablo Manzarek; daughter-in-law, Sharmin; and three grandchildren.

Anna Amoral (on the left) mediating a mock case.
(Nina Porzucki)
May 20, 2013

Immigrant Domestic Workers Test New Ways to Settle Disputes

On a recent Saturday afternoon, a dozen nannies and housecleaners, many of them immigrants from Brazil, gather with employers in a living room in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They snack on cheese and crackers, breaking the ice a bit before talking about talking and how to settle some of the troubles that can bubble up in domestic work.

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