I interviewed Tom Boersma who discussed "Textile Recycling Industry" The Statistics of Textile Waste in our Country and the Redistribution to Third World Countries.
Can you start by providing a brief background of yourself?
Yes. I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, completed my education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, majoring in logistics. My whole career, I’ve worked for family-owned companies, running their warehouse operations and trucking activities.
I retired in 2007. I started up a consulting company and here I am today. I’ve accepted a full-time job with Global Clothing Industries in Atlanta. That’s a brief overview.
Great. Can you give me an overview of the textile industry and some of the waste involved and how it’s distributed?
This is kind of an unheard-of business. Textile waste amounts to 25 billion pounds of textiles per year, and that’s a U.S. government number; that’s about 82 pounds per resident. Of that 25 billion pounds, 15 percent is donated or recycled. Eighty-five percent of the textiles, which is 21 billion pounds a year, go to municipal solid-waste places. To give you an overview of the post-consumer waste, plastics is 12.3 percent; metals and glass are 13.4 percent; food scraps, 14.1 percent; paper, 28.2 percent; and textile is 5.2 percent of that. There’s very little of the textile that gets recycled.
In 2012 that number I just gave you—that 25 billion pounds—that’s a 2012 number. By 2019, it’s expected to be about 35.4 billion pounds of textile waste, with only a 2 percent growth of recycling. Seventeen percent of the 35.4 billion pounds are only going to be recycled by 2019. That gives you some idea of the volumes we’re talking about here.
Can you talk about what your company does?
Yes, we are a family-owned company, started eight years ago. Some folks from Sierra Leone, Africa, started the business—they’re U.S. citizens—and they had no background in recycling textiles. Today we operate two facilities, one of 64,000 square feet and the other of 53,000 square feet. We have approximately 147 employees who are involved in the sorting of textiles.
We obtain all our material from companies like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and other thrift stores; product that can’t be sold or product that’s just too voluminous. Where these companies can’t process, they bale up into thousand-pound bales, and we buy them so much a pound. The market varies between 12, 15, 18 cents a pound. In addition, we also buy accessories like purses, shoes, bags, hard toys, soft toys. We’re not just a textile, buying clothes; we’re buying pretty much what all these types of businesses take in from the consumer.
Keep in mind that’s less than 15 percent of the availability of what’s out there. Not too many people know of or understand the textile-recycling business. It takes a lot of work just to obtain how to sell your product. It’s easy to get the raw material here in the United Stets because it’s so plentiful. The biggest and hardest chore is to find a reliable source to sell it to.
We sell in West Africa, South America, Central America, and Asia, and we have partners in each one of these locations where we sort through the clothing, and it has to be no stains in it, no rips, no tears, no discolor. It has to be good-quality clothing; otherwise, the people in Africa, they won’t accept it, and you’ll get a bad reputation in the industry. We sort through, approximately we come up with over 300 SKUs. Whether it be men’s clothing, ladies’ clothing, girls’ or young boys’, whether it be a dress or a shirt or a blouse or a pair of shoes, we bale this product up into hundred-pound bales, and we load containers—approximately 485 bales per container—and we export these to the third-world countries.
We also have a division called Vintage. Vintage is something that’s old, all the way up to age 100. At age 100, anything over age 100 is considered an antique. There is a big demand for vintage clothing that we sort out of the rest of the textile when we sort our textiles. That department operate about 12,000 square feet.
To give you an example of the vintage, a pair of blue jeans came through, and the vintage person on the line recognized it as a vintage item because it had certain stitching in it and it had a certain design. We ended up selling that pair of blue jeans to a buyer in Japan for $400. Then we were told in japan that the person who bought it from us sold that pair of jeans for $6000. There’s a tremendous value in recycling textile, picking out the vintage. We have people coming from japan, China, Britain, domestically from Los Angeles, Chicago, New York. A lot of movie studios come in here, going through our vintage.
The rest of the product, as the clothing, we sell so much a pound for shoes, hard toys, soft toys, purses, bags, and clothing, the vintage sells for X amount of dollars per piece, so it’s a little bit more valuable than the regular product that flows through the business.
That gives you a pretty good idea of what we do for a living. Eight years ago the company started with a revenue of $60,000 a year. We are now doing well over $17 million in revenue a year. That gives you some idea of our growth over eight years. With the continued growth and expansion of third-world-country sources, we plan to ship in excess of two containers a day five days a week and grow from there.
We’re also buying new technology to help us produce greater quantities with less labor. We’ve invested in two new state-of-the-art baling machines that are going to be shipped to us from Italy in late April. Instead of leasing property, we’re buying our facilities. Because the interest rates are so low, we can end up with a mortgage considerably less than a lease rate.
Those are the things we’re doing in the company now and expanding it, getting into second shifts. We’re looking at mezzanines within our facilities to add greater production. The world demand is just phenomenal for all this used clothing. That should give you a pretty good overview.
It sounds very interesting. I think our supply chain community will find this a very useful topic regarding the textile industry.
Yes, I think so. It’s not a very known industry. When I came into the company, I was asked to come in as a consultant and before the day was over, the owner offered me a job I couldn’t refuse, so that’s how I got here. There are maybe a thousand textile recyclers across the United States.
We do about 180,000 pounds a day of finished baling. There are companies that will do—in Poland there’s a company I’m familiar with that does pretty close to 750,000 pounds a day of recycling, but they’re highly automated and we’re just getting to the automation stage to better our production.
Thanks, Tom, for sharing today.
Okay, I appreciate the opportunity.
About Tom Boersma
Director of Operations and Supply Chain Management at Global Clothing Industries, LLC