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Company puts unwanted clothes to good use

By Shi Yingying (China Daily)

13:50, July 17, 2012

Are your out-of-fashion dresses, shirts and pants still in the back of your wardrobe or in the garbage can?

In Shanghai, though old clothes have a future after all, now that 520 clothing recycling bins have been distributed throughout neighborhoods in the city.

Rather than simply being recycled, some of the donated sweaters will be unknit and remade into child-size ones, which will go to poor pupils in Guizhou, Shandong and Yunnan provinces before October, said Yang Yinghong, head of the recycling company, Shanghai Yuanyuan Industrial Co.

The company was the only one in Shanghai that the municipal government approved to collect the old clothes.

"We've found retired women (in local neighborhoods) who volunteered to offer their time and efforts by turning the unwanted sweaters into 30,000 pieces of smaller versions," he said.

The old sweaters, which account for 15 percent of the total collection, will be sterilized before being remade.

In addition to the sweaters, winter clothes in good condition, accounting for at least 20 percent of the total, are sent to local charities to help the poor get through cold weather, he said.

Yang's plan is to have an estimated 12,000 clothing recycling bins set up in the city's neighborhoods by 2014.

He is not worried about his source of clothes, since surveys show Shanghai residents spend an average of nearly 20,000 yuan ($3,100) every year on fashion. Meanwhile, they throw out at least 130,000 tons of used clothes every year.

The first 120 bins were put out in May 2011 as a trial to gauge residents' response.

"It turned out that we've collected 17 tons of old clothes between May and September last year," said Yang, saying the clothing recycling bins were welcome by locals.

A 1.65-meter-tall postbox-like blue bin sits at the entrance of the 23-floor Pinghua Mansion in Shanghai's downtown. Zhu Renzhong, a retired worker who lives in the building, said he used the recycling bin once.

"We used to gather old clothes and take them to the neighborhood committee once a year. However, now we can put them in the box instead of keeping them for the whole year before the collection," he said.

Yu Yuefeng, from another neighborhood, Jinlan Garden, said the program is a good way to help the poor, adding, "To throw away unused clothes is a waste."

In the New Jiangnan Village community of Shanghai's Xuhui district, the idea was so popular that a recycling box was easily filled with old clothes.

"The collecting men are supposed to come once a week, but we have to call for them to take away clothes twice or even three times a week, as the box gets full every two or three days," said Xu Fulan, who is with the neighborhood's resident committee and in charge of contacting the collection man.

But still, the company is currently losing 20,000 yuan a month, Yang said.

"We expect to break even once there are 1,000 bins distributed in the city," he said.

There are also grassroots NGOs, including Shanghai Futian Environmental Protection Educator, in the city that have been collecting clothes for recycling for a long time, but on an irregular schedule.

"We started as early as 2007 and our old-clothes collecting bus is running across different neighborhoods on an irregular schedule," said Chen Lin, a volunteer with the NGO.

Ma Yiyun contributed to this story.

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