Waste Management Diaries – 3 (Clothes)

“I’ve always thought of myself as someone who cares about the environment. I’ve recycled for as long as I can remember, I’m on my way to having a plastic-free kitchen and I always try to take public transport instead of driving. But until last year I was guilty of unknowingly contributing to 1m tonnes of waste a year, more carbon emissions than the shipping and aviation industries combined, and microplastics ending up in the ocean – just by buying new clothes.” – Radhika Sanghani, writer (Read the article here.)

Clothes. We get, we use, and then we give or throw away.

Give or throw away could happen for many reasons such as…
– the article no longer fits (we have grown)
– the article is not fit to be worn by us anymore (faded, stained, worn-out, torn, broken buckle, etc.)
– we do not use it (it was bought on impulse or an undesired gift)
– we do not have space to keep it (we have more than we need)
– we are just bored with it (we’ve worn it a few times already).

Our society receives a variety of personal clothes on a daily basis. Some are deposited in the collection bins kept for the purpose, some are left by residents outside their doors along with the dry waste, and some are picked up from miscellaneous locations (most likely left by helpers who took the things given by their bosses but actually did not want them).

Some are thoughtfully ironed/folded, in a state that is ready to be worn by someone else.
Some need minor repairs (new elastic, or a few stitches).
Some cannot be reused as is, but can be “upcycled” (tops to bags, trousers to shorts).
Some are purposely slashed or burnt so that they are not wearable by others (a tradition followed).
Some will become cloth scrap for use in mechanic shops/ oil rigs or rewoven into new fabric.
Some need washing (yes, the clothes people deposit are sometimes dirty/ unwashed).

Some need to be dried before they can be put with the other clothes! Unbelievable isn’t it? Last Holi which was over a year ago, we had over 300 pieces of wet clothing discarded by residents. Volunteers and housekeeping staff took these to the terrace to dry, before they could be given to the Goonj-Tide Holi collection (read about it here).

Wet Holi clothes drying on the terrace, March 2018

What happens to the clothes that you give/throw away?

In earlier times: Before we had a waste management system in place, the clothes that were useful to the staff on the premises would be taken by them and the rest would be put into the BMC garbage truck to be dumped in the landfills.

Now: The clothes are first sorted by volunteers/ housekeeping.
Men, Women western, Women kurta-chudidar-pyjama, Sari-blouse, Children boys, Children girls, Baby-wear, Socks, Undergarments, Woolens, Dirty/to be washed, Wearable if repaired, Good for making cloth bags, Wiping rags (for housekeeping), Fancy costumes, Cloth scrap (chindi).

While the sorting is being done (and even later), all are free to take any item they want. We’ve had many housekeeping staff, security guards, house maids and even residents take items that they find useful. Washing of dirty clothes, minor repairs like stitching, sewing buttons, putting new elastic, etc. is done as necessary (by yours truly) – to give the clothes a longer life.

Clothes being sorted, March 2018

Over the past fifteen months, the clothes have been given to various places including Sneha Sadan Orphanage Goregaon West, Goonj, Goonj-Tide Holi collection, villages in Jawhar district, Junoon Trust Kandivali. One of our housekeeping boys had a baby so many of the baby clothes were taken by him. Cloth retrieved from the discarded clothes has been given to those who make cloth bags. Some of the clothes have been sold to local Chindiwalas and the money put into the society’s waste management fund. (The Chindiwala sells the decent clothes directly and the rest are sent to factories for recycling. Mixed fabrics are generally hard to recycle but there are places in India that do this. Interesting video here.) There are some items that we are grappling with, that the Chindiwala will not take even for free. We have some leads and will find them a place other than a landfill.

Vehicle sent by Goonj-Tide for clothes pick-up, March 2018
WhatsApp Image 2018-12-02 at 5.31.48 PM
Clothes distribution at one of the villages in Jawhar district, Dec 2018

How can we be responsible with our clothes?

  • Try to extend their use by fixing small issues/ alteration/ re-purposing them.
  • Consider not throwing them, given that they will come back into style eventually.
  • Try to give them directly to people who will use them.
  • Wash and dry all the clothes before discarding them (no one, all of us included, wants to handle other people’s dirty or wet clothes).
  • Keep the clothes separate from the daily waste. Drop directly in the society’s blue collection drum.

“There is no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere.”
– Annie Leonard, Proponent of Sustainability

This is the third post about Waste Management at Whispering Palms Xxclusives, Kandivali East, Mumbai.


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