Rags to...

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

No, not to riches, but an awful lot else...

Not all rag & bone men had horses and carts as this London photo showsHow many (cotton) garments, one can but wonder, end up in the waste stream and ultimately the landfill or incinerator on a daily basis and that only from homes, not to speak of those that for whatever reason are discarded by manufacturers and stores.

There was a time when old garments - “rags” – and in those days all made of natural fibers were collected for recycling, and that was before that word was even coined. “Rags” were collected by the so-called “Rag and Bone Man” and those were sold by him to be made into cleaning rags for industry and military gun cleaning patches, as well as to be made into paper.

We claim to have advanced since World War Two and before but in the way that we create waste and manage our discards, same as in some other departments, it does not appear to be the case at all.

Considering that in those bygone days we seem to have recycled more and better – true, it was also out of necessity - and reused more and better than today points to the fact that we have not progressed at all, at least not in a positive manner.

Wipes in industry – and elsewhere – nowadays are non-woven synthetic materials such a polypropylene and paper (one time use and toss) and thus textile rags went out of fashion and favor.

Even though some companies have begun – again – to make (specialty) paper out of textile waste it is being treated and paraded as something new as in “did you know you can make paper from textile waste”. They seem to forget – conveniently – that the first paper, made by the Chinese, use to be made from rags. We keep reinventing the wheel, it seems.

Off-cut waste from the garment industry, as long as we are talking natural materials such as cotton, canvas (hemp), and such like – alone could produce tons and tons of paper, not even considering how much more could be made from clothing such as T-shirts, jeans, etc., thrown out by people on a daily basis all over the world.

In the days gone by such rags would have been – on a more or less regular basis – collected by the “Rag and Bone Man” on his rounds and kept out of the waste stream but nowadays into the landfill or the incinerator they go. And they call that progress.

In the absence of a viable and useful collection system for rags – especially from natural materials, as textiles made from synthetic fibers often are not much use for even cleaning rags, bar some – for the the “Rag and Bone Man” of old is all but history, we must reuse as much of this resource as possible ourselves (at home).

Our ancestors would have, first of all, reused the material from any old garment to make something new, including and especially quilts and such like, and today the same could be done again and also making totes and such. Only when the fabric really was of not reuse use it would be tossed into the rag bag for use as rags around the home, etc., or for collection by the “Rag and Bone Man”.

Old socks and mittens, and here even of synthetic fleece, can be turned into dusters for use around the home – I do this all the time – and worn-out denim jeans – and who has not got them from time to time – can be made (upcycled) into a variety of really useful things for use around the home, etc., and even for sale. The Internet abounds with ideas and instructions on the latter matter.

Cotton T-shirts and such like, when they have come to the end of their useful lives, can be turned – if all else fails and there is no other use for them – into cleaning rags for a multitude of uses.

Some modern-day garment materials, such as some polyesters – aside from fleeces and high-cotton content poly-cotton blends – and, though not all that common anymore, Nylon, do not lend themselves well for the conversion into rags of whatever kind as they are not very absorbent.

Worn-out towels also do not – immediately – belong into the trash (and not even the rag bin). They can be remade in to flannels and then, ultimately, into dusters and cleaning rags, and this goes also for tea towels.

Using cleaning cloths and rags, repurposed from worn out fabric, is a green and frugal way to travel and reduces the use of paper towels, wet pipes and such likes, which impact quite negatively on the Planet.

This is just a little food for thought as to what to do with rags that turn up, so to speak, in the absence of the of the “Rag and Bone Man” and any viable waste clothes collection

Will we see the modern-day “Rag and Bone Man” soon? I doubt it though it would be a good idea.

© 2014