Recycling and repurposing used fabrics and scraps

About five years ago, Scott Massey, president of Awning Cleaning Industries/APCO Products (and a member of IFAI’s board of directors), decided to expand his business reach in an earth-friendly way. His company has always had an environmental bent, since well-maintained fabrics stay out of landfills longer.

Still, even these fabrics eventually need replacing, resulting in old materials ending up in landfills and scraps from new products landing there as well—a big concern for Massey, whose New Haven, Conn., company provides commercial and residential cleaning, retreating and repairs for most outdoor fabrics. His team handles awnings and umbrellas, boat covers and sails and products, as well as APCO-branded dye- and fragrance-free cleaners and protectors (including two with EPA-approved surfactants).

Already participating in Glen Raven’s “Recycle My Sunbrella®” program, Massey stepped it up, taking a grassroots approach, letting several local awning and marine cover manufacturers know he was willing to collect, process and ship their used and scrap material. Soon, the piles on his warehouse floor began growing as the word spread.

Collection calls

During down times, employees process the fabric, removing grommets, zippers and so on, cutting some of the larger pieces down to manageable sizes, and sewing bags out of others, which they stuff with the smaller scrap. Initially, the bags were stockpiled until sufficient numbers had accumulated, at which point Massey hired a shipper to deliver them to a North Carolina halfway house where they underwent grinding and were sold, an arrangement established by Glen Raven.

Eventually, Massey created three ways for contributors—currently numbering around 35—to get their scraps to him: directly delivering, shipping to his warehouse or taking the materials to the NECPA show. Trivantage, an awning and marine fabric and hardware distributor owned by Glen Raven, also got involved, allowing its warehouses across the country to serve as collection centers for customers and sending the used and/or scrap fabrics to the halfway house. Massey’s local Trivantage representative, John Robinson, pitched in as well. Now, he stops by Massey’s warehouse to pick up and deliver the filled bags, saving shipping costs.

As the grassroots recycling program gained traction, Awning Cleaning Industries started receiving larger fabric scraps. Acting on the suggestion of another contributor, Massey and his crew began sewing these together, repurposing them into tarps and covers.

“Add some grommets and you have tarps for use in disaster relief,” says Massey. “We’ve distributed them to disaster-relief providers in several locations throughout the world and in the U.S.—an activity becoming a big piece of our repurpose portion.” (The company has donated tarps/covers to the Philippines and Haiti for hurricane relief and to Americares, a disaster relief and global health nonprofit.)

Awning Cleaning also produces “second life” tote bags with one side constructed from cleaned used awnings or boat covers and the other from scrap materials. The bags have been used for show bags at the last four IFAI shows, the last NECPA show, and as donations to local nonprofits for giveaways—“helping to spread the word about our grassroots program, and allowing our company to feel good about something beyond the quality of our for-profit work” says Massey.

Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelance writer based in Long Beach, Calif.