Simplified: The Union Gospel Mission has a new tool to manage donated clothes that are past their usable life – a baler.

Um ... what?

You read it right. The mission is going to use the baler to compress old clothes into blocks that'll then be repurposed into shingles like the ones on your roof.

Why it matters

  • About 70,000 of pounds of clothes are donated each year to the mission, and while many of them go to clothe people who are unhoused or in need, some just aren't able to be worn again.
  • Those clothes then often end up in landfills. But mission CEO Eric Weber wants to see a more sustainable option.
  • The baler will not only provide that sustainability, but it'll also give people who rely on (or volunteer with) the mission to gain practical mechanical skills in using the baler that they can then take to future jobs.
"This is a game-changer for the mission and for the community," Weber said. "I want it to be a program that's going to be here for 20-25 years and then some."

How did this all come to be?

Weber first learned that clothing can be repurposed into roofing materials when he was looking to redo his own roof.

  • As he was looking for sustainable options, he realized shingles can be made with a cotton blend.

About six months ago, he bought a baler. Weber has also identified a few companies in Tennessee and North Carolina that will pay a certain price-per-pound for clothing to make the shingles.

  • At about 1500 pounds of clothes per bale, and about 35-40 bales per truckload, Weber estimates each truckload could bring $10,000 to the mission.

What's cool about it, too, said Heather Craig, human resources director at the mission, is that the clothes are donated to the mission that houses people who are homeless.

"These clothes are going to become actual parts of a house," Craig said.

What happens next? (And how to help)

The mission needs help from an electrician to set up the baler, first and foremost, Weber said.

The nonprofit would also benefit from some local people with experience using balers to train the mission staff and volunteers how to work the machine.

And, if you've got extra clothes in your closet, think about the help they could do.

"Don't throw it away," Weber said. "Give it away."