- Associated Press - Friday, July 11, 2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Anne Watson shakes her head when she thinks about all of the stained, holey T-shirts she has pitched over the years.

“I thought, ‘we can’t even use that,’ ” she said of her family, “so why would we donate it?”

But as the executive director of the St. Joseph County Council of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, she now knows there is a use for clothing that thrift stores can’t resell.

“If you bring it here, it will be used for another purpose,” she told the South Bend Tribune (http://bit.ly/TXeEZE ).

The average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing, linens and other textiles each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Textiles account for 5 percent of municipal waste, because only about 15 percent of them are recycled.

And it’s not just clothing. Consumer electronics - including TVs, video and audio equipment, computers and phones - comprise about 1 to 2 percent of municipal waste, and plastics - found in containers, packaging, appliances, furniture and toys - make up almost 13 percent of municipal waste.

St. Vincent, Goodwill and the Salvation Army sell clothing items too damaged for retail sales to textile recyclers or salvage brokers, who either ship them to Third World countries or resell them to companies who repurpose them as cleaning rags, furniture padding, insulation and building materials.

Each year, St. Vincent sells 8 tons of wiper rags and 198 tons of salvage rags. Those are items that would otherwise have gone to a landfill.

“The wiper rags, which are 100 percent cotton, are baled and sold to businesses in the community like plumbers, manufacturers and even the city,” said Alica McMurtrie, operations manager at St. Vincent. The rest are sold to a salvage company.

“It costs us to haul things off and trash it,” McMurtrie said.

“We want to maximize the dollar potential of every donation. We don’t want to throw it away, if we can make something off of it.”

It’s the same with other donations the society gets. It sells 39 tons of scrap metal each year, too.

St. Vincent takes small and large appliances and fixes them up in a small repair shop in the back of its Ardmore Trail store. But, if an item cannot be fixed, St. Vincent sells the cords and metals such as copper and brass to various salvage companies. Even plastic items, computers, cellphones and televisions are recycled.

Last year, Goodwill Industries of Michiana Inc. recycled 660,361 pounds of computers, 1,193,470 pounds of TVs, 323 pounds of cellphones and 8,425 pounds of plastic.

“We have relationships with different organizations who go through and pick the components out and recycle them,” said Guy Fisher, fund manager and director of mission advancement. “Dell does a lot of that with computer equipment, as well as with television sets.”

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