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Just throwing out some ideas for recycling

When it came to being resourceful, no one could ever match my mother. Take her throw rugs, for example. They came in two varieties.

There were the flesh-colored ones that she crocheted out of old nylon stockings. "They're neutral. They go with everything," she would say.

And then there were the ones she wove from strips of old clothing. Of these she would say, "They have all colors in them. They go with everything."

One day when I took a ton of old clothing to the Lilburn Coop, I asked Kay Whithear, the director, what they do with clothes that they can't sell? I told her about my mother and asked if there is anyone out there like her who recycles them into rugs?

"Not that I know of," Whithear said. "One of our workers makes slippers out of scrap yarn that comes in and we sell them here, but I don't know of anyone like your mother."

"So what does happen to all the tons of things like torn T-shirts and outdated dresses that never sell?" I asked. "Don't they get to be a storage problem for you?"

"They can be, but we just found an organization called Global Clothing Industries that picks them up for us and pays us for them by the pound. For the last load they paid us $900."

GCI, whose only Gwinnett pick-up point is the Lilburn Coop, ships the castoff clothing to struggling countries in Africa, Central American and South America. But these clothes are not just handouts. At their headquarters in Atlanta and in the countries they serve, GCI provides jobs and helps give people a sense of dignity.

Clothes are compressed into 1,000 pound blocks, and then shipped out. Once they reach their destinations, hundreds of thousands of local workers handle, clean, repair, restyle and distribute the used clothing.

Providing work for people is gratifying for owner, Lamin Bah, who emigrated from Sierra Leone 13 years ago. One of Bah's first jobs in America was selling water on the street during the Olympics. He is now an American citizen and owner of an industry that helps people all over the world, including his native country.

But what about the items that are in too bad a condition to sell? Bah says worn out T-shirts are turned into industrial fabrics and cleaning rags. Poor quality sweaters end up as insulation or mattress pads. If it weren't for the resourcefulness of GCI, most of this clothing would end up in a landfill in the United States. After GCI buys it, only about 10 percent is discarded.

Even with all this creative recycling of throwaways, no one at GCI knew of anyone who crochets rugs out of old stockings. It seems that somewhere in this world there would be a market for throw rugs that "go with everything."

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.