One small commitment to purchasing locally made, eco friendly and recycled clothing and recycling your clothing, accessories and small household goods can make a big impact to the world believe it or not. Manufacture of fabrics is a top source of pollution on our planet, with cotton and polyester production requiring and utilizing vast amounts of pesticides and chemicals. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that in 2010 12.83 million tons of textiles were in our municipal solid waste (MSW) stream, with only 1.97 million tons of that recovered in recycling. Textiles are recycled at a rate of about 15% versus paper at 52.7%.
Clothing manufacture is a global industry, with 97% of our apparel in the US imported from foreign countries, while our own clothing manufacture industry is on its deathbed. Designers flock to non union and developing countries to feed the US demand for cheap apparel. The only way to be sure that a sweatshop or child labor did not make your garment can take hours of research, and phone calls and you may need to request a company’s corporate social responsibility report. Its much easier to look to our own local markets where local designers, consignment shops, and recycled reusable clothing can offer your fashion sense peace of mind.
Around 2006 Bethany Gringerich decided to make a change in her life, resolving to go for one year without buying anything new. Her change in lifestyle proved so successful that her and her partner Joseph Cicchino decided to build a business model around it, creating the first Elise Clothing consignment store in Kahului in April of 2007. Now five years later the business has grown to 3 stores and they are looking at expanding the Kahului location.
“Recycling of of clothing in itself is a huge benefit to the environment. All of our clothing is sourced on Maui from local individuals, requiring no shipping,” says Joseph Cicchino, owner of Elise. “This saves fuel, packaging, and other waste that goes along with new retail. We’re in the process of switching all our lighting to LED bulbs, which are up to 85% more energy efficient than traditional lightbulbs. Our Kahului store now has solar panels, whick provide 100% of our electricity for that location. Nearly all of our retail fixtures were purchased on either Maui or Oahu from other retail businesses. We also provide our own reusable shopping bags with purchases. We estimate it to be over 30,000 pounds of textile that we actually accept and sell. The Kahului store is 960 square feet, our first and smallest spot. This is the only store that carries women’s only. The other two carry men’s and women’s. Lahaina is 1,800 square feet and Kihei is 1,950 square feet.”
Elise buys your clothing and accessory items outright when you bring them in. Other consignment shops like Rainbow Attic feature household goods, furniture pieces, books and clothing and accessories. Items accepted at Rainbow Attic are consigned by item, and after a certain period you can shop on credit or pick up your cash. Bohemia on Market Street in Wailuku is also a consignment store where you have an account created to consign your goods after they are accepted. They specialize in designer items, and some locally designed goods as well.
Big Brother Big Sister of Maui earns money for their non-profit that “provides Maui’s children who are facing adversity with strong and enduring professionally supported one to one mentoring relationships.” They have a truck that picks up re-usable clothing and small household items that operates 5 to 6 days a week. J.D. Wyatt, Director at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Maui says the donation center employs 7 part time and full time staff.
“We pick up re-useable clothing and small household items based upon a weekly, scheduled route,” says Wyatt. “We have donation solicitors that make calls, and we also receive a large number of calls from the public requesting pick up of donated items. We offer free at home/business pickup and then deliver the items directly to the Savers store, where the store pays us based upon the weight of the items. In a time where fuel costs are soaring, I believe the extra value we provide by picking items up at their homes is a win – win for everyone involved. We also hold monthly clothing drives at Walmart.”
The donation business is a significant portion of their annual funding and Wyatt says their collection efforts bring in hundreds of thousands of pounds of textiles, accessories and small household items, keeping that out of the landfill. Another non profit working in the clothing recycling business is Kidney Clothes, for the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii. They have two staffed donation pods, one near the Longs in Pukalani and the other near the Longs in Kihei, where you can donate your reusable clothing and shoes.
“Kidney disease is on the rise, this is one way we offset the cost of providing our services,” says Colleen Welty, Maui Director National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii. “We have a driver on the road about two days a week doing pick ups and Savers purchases the goods from us.”
Savers is one of the largest recyclers of clothing in the world, tying clothing and small household item recycling to non profit fund generation since founder William O. Ellison opened the first store in San Francisco in 1954. Now they have more than 150 non profit partners and divert more than 600 million pounds of goods from landfills annually. In 2011 Savers purchased more than $150 million of goods from non-profits and paid more than $1.5 billion to non profit organizations over the past 10 years. They have 280 stores in the US, Canada and Australia. Salvation Army is another entity on Maui recycling clothing and furniture with stores in Kihei and Lahaina.
“We’ve been in the business of connecting communities and building a bridge between donors with surplus goods and shoppers who can give these goods another life for more than 60 years,” says Sara Gaugle, Public Relations and Communications for Savers. “One of the easiest ways to “go green” is by shopping thrift! Merchandise not suitable for resale, or items that do not sell on our sales floors, are responsibly recycled. A portion of these goods are sent to developing countries where they help improve the lives of people in other parts of the world. Remaining items are sold to domestic material wholesalers who recycle the products into new materials such as wiping rags, car insulation and much more. We’re proud to say that we can find a home for most donated items”
American’s make a lot of garbage. The EPA’s 2010 data shows we generated 250 million tons of trash and recycled 34 percent of it overall. In Maui the latest figures show a diversion rate in 2011 of 42.9% which is up from the 2009 figures of 30% of the 550 tons per day generated. The central Maui landfill is expected to reach capacity in 2026, one option is to acquire more land, but a better option is to increase our recycling efforts. Our rates of recycling aluminum and plastic have increased with the rebates offered, but diversion of many items into the landfill is critical. The recycling of small household items and used clothing is easy, raises money in the community and there is no reason we can’t keep these items out of the landfill completely.
“Our community is pretty good about getting stuff to second hand stores,” says Hana Steel, Recycling Coordinator for Maui County. “Our 2011 figures show textiles are 2.7% of MSW for businesses and residents at the Central Maui Landfill, compared to Oahu at 3.3% and Kauai at 4%.”
Steel says the county diversion goal is 60% but funding, legislation, and infrastructure are all needed to get there. To assist with increasing our diversion rates the County of Maui website has an online recycling and disposal resource guide to help residents locate places to bring all kinds of classes of recyclables, from automotive and electronics to textiles. However the site is still under construction, and the data entry there is not monitored by Steel’s office. The only guideline for recycling textiles in the online resource is to bring them to the Central Maui Landfill. However Maui has a more vibrant textile recycling system than this illuminates.
“There are so many ways to recycle wearables! There is no reason not to reuse,” say Gingerich and Cicchino. “There are donation spots everywhere, people who repurpose clothes into new exciting designs, and of course stores like Elise that buy or consign extra-great items and present them to a new owner! People get so excited when they find awesome treasures, so if you don’t love it, move it out of your closet and get it to someone who will adore it. And grab an awesome new-to-you treat for yourself while you’re at it. It’s one of the simplest and most fun ways to be environmentally friendly AND look super-cute!”
Big Brother Big Sisters of Maui: Call 808-242-9754 for pick up
Elise: 808-661-5473, 808-893-5473, 808-874,5473
Kidney Clothes: call 986-1900 or 270-8890 for pick up
Kala Iki Thrift Store, Kula Hospital: 808 878-1221
Keiki Kokua Thrift Store: 575-5393
Ka Mana’olana Thrift Store: 875-2112
Rainbow Attic: 808-874-0884
Salvation Army thrift stores: 808-875-8065, 808-661-8827
St. Anthony’s Thrift Shop: 808-242-7785
St. Joseph’s Thrift Shop: 808-572-9150