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Recycling Human Lives Along With The Clothes At Goodwill

Tom Pelton

Recycling programs across the U.S. are suffering or shutting down. This is because China – until recently, the world’s largest importer of recyclable material – imposed a ban on more imports amid its trade war with the Trump Administration.

This is unfortunate. But it is not the end of recycling. There are dozens of other ways people can recycle, other than at the curbside. You can buy and sell furniture and home goods at yard sales. Folks can also donate goods to Goodwill and buy things there, instead of spending 10 times as much at the Gap or Urban Outfitters.

I recently visited Goodwill of the Chesapeake on its 100th anniversary of public service to the Baltimore area.  For a century, the nonprofit organization has been taking donated clothes and goods from the public and providing jobs and employment training to those most in need.

Inside Goodwill’s store in Columbia, Maryland, Lisa Rusyniak, President of Goodwill of the Chesapeake, was checking out the clothes on arack.

“Here we have skirts and pants – these are all for ladies, really nice stuff,” said Rusyniak. “I saw Ann Taylor skirts back over there for $5 dollars.  I mean, you can’t beat it. If you’re starting out in your career and you don’t have a lot of money, this is the perfect place to go.”

Although people don’t often think of Goodwill as an environmental organization, Rusyniak argues that their resale of used goods provides an important service in waste-management.

“Last year, we kept 22 million pounds of articles from going to landfills,” she said. “We are taking in goods at our back door from the donors, and we are processing them. If they don’t have any stains, rips or tears, then we put them on our sales floor for four weeks.”

When you buy clothing from Goodwill, you also contribute much less greenhouse gas pollution to the atmosphere – because new clothes are not being flown in for you from China or Vietnam.

“When you think about pollution, you often think about coal power plants, or sewage,” Rusyniak said. “But really, second to oil, clothing and apparel are some of the largest sources of pollutants in our environment.  Most people don’t know that in order to make a shirt and a pair of jeans that are cotton, it takes over 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture.  And it requires 70 barrels of oil to produce virgin polyester make for our clothes every year.  So it’s huge that we’re recycling and keeping all of this stuff out of our landfills.”

More importantly, Goodwill is recycling human lives by helping people others have thrown away.  Goodwill of the Chesapeake employs 1,000 people in its 28 stores in the Baltimore area. Many of those who receive work training and paychecks from Goodwill are just out of prison or struggling with disabilities or a variety of other issues.

“Anyone can come to us,” Rusyniak said. “You can be chronically unemployed, or coming out of prison, or coming off of public assistance. We help anybody and everybody who needs help.”

So on the 100th birthday of Goodwill of the Chesapeake, give the Earth – and your fellow struggling Baltimoreans – a gift by buying some shoes or a shirt from people who also deserve a second chance.