Textiles are no different a commodity than cardboard, refundables, plastics, and other streams that have a value on the market. Non-profits agencies have marketed textiles into a donation-only image since it is so beneficial to their organization due to the current value, but they have only a tip of the iceberg for volume in the textiles recycling market. The US government says it is worth on average about US $850 per metric ton and the majority is not recycled. Haulers and municipalities, in my opinion, have blinders on and can’t see beyond their traditional old collecting streams and have been slow or non-existent to adopt this new textiles recycling stream.
There is plenty of space in the market for haulers and municipalities since only a very small percentage of the residents currently recycle clothing. Municipalities should benefit as it is a waste diversion, which should be at a lower cost than disposal. There is a cost to the environment from discarded textiles, which should be considered. The opportunity to the hauler is to create value in this to their organization. However, caution is thrown into the air that as more volume is recycled in the marketplace, the market price per MT will drop to satisfy the law of supply and demand. So don’t go gung hoe into capital investment for textiles recycling and collection without considering the lowest – and I mean the LOWEST – possible price in your Pro-forma.
The majority of clothes are discarded into the waste stream since residents for the most part will choose from available options presented in front of them and not down the street or at a transfer station. It’s like blue-box recycling collection, if you want the majority collected then present the resident the option in front of them at their residence. I have the first-hand experience in a controlled environment placing 3rd party textile bins in secure residential buildings in the waste and recycling room, unlike the stats behind most textiles collected. By placing all my client’s bins in private and secure locations in multi-unit residential buildings, I know the exact number of units and residents living in each building and the specific cubic volume of textiles and other waste stream volumes generated each week for each building.
When you do the math, after obtaining real good statistics and backing out small diversions, you will find that the lbs. per resident of textiles per year is around the value that the US Gov’t says, which is about 81 lbs. per year per resident. If you gather up a variety of textiles you are discarding, and put in a plastic bag and weigh it, you will soon discover that it amounts to about 2 large plastic curbside garbage bags of matted material or maybe 4 to 6 smaller grocery bags or small garbage bags. The volume will vary depending on the density.
Now, it is up to you as a hauler to put your thinking caps on and figure out the most productive and cost-effective way of collecting and possibly processing this material since you are good at that. They currently collect it, for the most part, from placing stationary bins in public and hand tossing it into transfer bags and transferring it into a panel van or from tossing it into panel vans if collecting from residential curbside. Stationary locked down bins are for the street, but not needed for a secure residential building where you don’t normally have theft and if you do, you can curb it since the custodian usually has video and knows the culprit. As you know, time and volume are components of productivity – so think about the best balance of reducing time and increasing volume, given the constraints, to get your highest productivity. Some improved ideas for textile collection might be the use of a walking floor in a long panel truck, use of a compaction rear-load truck that won’t damage the material – like a modified Rotopress without an auger – and/or use of European 770 and 1100 litre 4-wheel bins or a Top Select without hydraulic compaction. Commodity credits to your customers for textiles recycling, if given, could move with the commodity market price to protect your profit margin.
If you want to stay out of the 10-finger sorting side of it or the shipping side of it, you have to do your research on pricing for untouched material and exhaust all your calling and emailing to every processor or broker to get the best possible price, least grading and most material accepted options. I have seen it vary from US 9 cents per lb. to US 30 cents per pound for un-touched collected material dumped at a textiles recycling processing site. It will vary by the processor for the type of material that is acceptable, if you choose to stay out of the cost and/or capital-intensive processing of textiles.
So, now is the time to take off your blinders and dip your big toe into the textile world with textiles recycling and collection. With lots of planning, you too can take a profitable piece of the textile iceberg.
Written by Michael Solkshinitz