Q: At the Hilltop Hy-Vee on the southwest side of the parking lot, they had some collection bins. You could throw any kind of fabric in there, even old underwear, and it would be recycled. Now the bins are gone. I asked Hy-Vee, and they said they weren’t connected with that. I have stuff I’d like to get rid of. Is there another place to discard old fabric material rather than it going to the landfill?
A: Those bins were provided by USAgain, a for-profit company that has more than 10,000 collection bins in 15 states. While the Hy-Vee bins have disappeared, there are still many others around the region.
In Mankato, the USAgain bins are at the Shell station on Third Avenue and outside the Red Wing Shoes store on Madison Avenue. The bins can be found at the North Mankato car washes on Howard Drive and Lookout Drive and at PJ’s Liquor on Belgrade Avenue. And there’s a bin at the Blue Earth County recycling center, operated by Waste Management, at 725 Waseca Ave. in the LeHillier area of South Bend Township.
The company’s website also lists bin locations in Le Sueur, Le Center, Madison Lake, Eagle Lake, St. Clair and three apiece in St. Peter and New Ulm.
A Free Press story four years ago noted that USAgain has a different set of standards than most thrift stores, which are typically looking only for donations of used clothing that’s in good-enough condition that people would be genuinely interested in purchasing the items.
“’They’ll take purses, belts, shoes, prom dresses. They want it all,’” a Blue Earth County recycling official said of USAgain.
Along with underwear, as the reader noted, USAgain takes used bras, socks, drapes, bedding, pillows and towels.
USAgain takes the stuff from its bins, combines into half-ton bales and sells the bales to wholesalers. After the wholesalers sort through it, at least 50% of donated items are worn again, according to the company’s website.
The waste-reduction consulting company WasteZero explains the processing done by textile recycling wholesalers. The best stuff is sold as used clothing to Americans. Slightly damaged clothing is sent to Third World countries that have more of a “repair culture” than the United States. Items that are too damaged to be worn again but are made of quality fabric can be recycled into cleaning rags, rugs, carpet pads, insulation, automotive soundproofing, and cushion stuffing.
Other websites suggest the lowest quality material may end up being burned in garbage-to-energy incinerators.
So, bottom line, there’s a lot of stuff that most people — wrongly assuming no one would ever want to reuse or recycle it — needlessly toss in the garbage.
Ask Us Guy, for instance, has a pair of teenage sons, and it never would have occurred to him that there was any alternative to the garbage can — other than potentially a toxic waste dump — for Ask Us Boy No. 2’s used sneakers.
While the reader asked specifically about the USAgain bins, Ask Us Guy does feel an obligation to point out that there are worthy alternatives to the company for people looking to donate used fabrics and textiles.
There’s certainly nothing inherently wrong with USAgain making a profit, but several local charitable organizations rely on their thrift stores for revenue. So southern Minnesotans might still want to take the time to separate their best used clothing and drop it off at a thrift store that helps support good deeds in the community.
Ask Us Guy called a couple of the larger ones to see if they wanted to make that appeal and didn’t have any luck, but he did chat with Brad Hart of the local branch of the Disabled American Veterans.
The DAV actually accepts everything that USAgain accepts, with the exception of pillows, so there’s no need to sort damaged from undamaged items. And the DAV uses the proceeds to help veterans of the armed services who were disabled in the defense of their country. DAV drop-off sites include ones in Mankato at 191 N. Victory Drive (in the parking lot between MGM Liquor and Elevate Church), 719 S. Front St. (Becky’s Floral) and 1900 N. Riverfront Drive (the VFW).
DAV bins are also listed as being at the North Mankato Recycling Center, 600 Webster Ave.; the Red Men Club, 412 S. Third St., St. Peter; and at the Eagle Lake American Legion, 100 N. Third St.; along with locations in Madison Lake, Janesville, Elysian and several other area towns. People can learn more about the program and find drop-off bins near them at donatedavmn.org/content/collectionlocations. (Don’t go, however, to the one listed as “1900 S. Front Street” in Mankato, an address which doesn’t exist. That probably was meant to say “1900 N. Riverfront Drive” — the location of the VFW.)
When deciding whether to drop their donated items in a bin marked “USAgain” or one marked “DAV,” Hart just requests that donors think about it a bit.
“Those people make money,” he said of USAgain. “We’re a non-profit and the money has to be used to help veterans. I ask people, ‘What would you rather do?’”
Ask Us Guy, as a neutral journalist, won’t opinionate on which is the better choice.
In a completely unrelated matter, though, Ask Us Guy — the son of a U.S. Army private first class who manned an anti-aircraft gun throughout the Pacific theater during the entirety of World War II — would like to wish readers a solemn and peaceful Veterans Day on Monday.
Contact Ask Us at The Free Press, P.O Box 3287, Mankato, MN 56002. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org; put Ask Us in the subject line.