Keeping Clothes in Circulation

BARRE, Vt. - Mounds of clothing are piled high on tables stretching the length of the auditorium of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR) building. In just two days, more than 46 tons of donated clothing, linens and shoes make their way on and off the tables.

This is the Drop N' Swap, sponsored by the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District (CVSWMD) and held about every six months. The event has been held every spring and fall for the past seven years, with a dual purpose: to provide free clothing to the district's needy citizens, and to keep reusable and recyclable textiles out of landfills.

On the first day, area residents drop off donations and volunteers sort them. The doors open the next morning for the swap portion of the event, during which people sift through the clothing and take as much as they can use. Whatever is left is hauled away by a recycler.

"What's left over is sent to other communities, overseas, or recycled into rags or felt," said Donna Barlow Casey, CVSWMD director. "It's 100 percent recycled, guaranteed."

This spring, more than 900 people donated 3,085 bags of clothes - 1,275 bags more than last fall - keeping usable textiles out of limited landfill space. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C. estimates that in 1995, textile waste (clothing, footwear, sheets, etc.) made up 7.4 million tons, or 3.6 percent, of the municipal solid waste stream.

"Clothing is a reusable commodity," says Debbie Fyffe, CVSWMD recycling/hazardous materials manager. "By recycling it, we're saving space for things that really need to be landfilled."

Since the event started seven years ago, about 352 tons of clothes have been collected, and more than 7,000 people have taken 284 tons of it home. Another 68 tons has been recycled. So both goals are achieved, Fyffe says.

"There are a lot of people who are needy and proud," she says. "This event removes a barrier - there are no criteria they have to meet to get clothes here."