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Byron Shire
May 22, 2024

Your old rags can become Vinnies’ riches

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Cutter and sorter Kaylene Rugendyke, Lismore and operations manager Angelo Grande pictured at the Matthew Talbot Clothing Recycling Centre, Goonellabah.

Robin Osborne. Photos: Jacklyn Wagner

Some workplaces, like Southern Cross University’s School of Arts, get through less than one pack a week, others, like Lismore Nissan & Kia, use nearly one per day, preferring flannelette because it’s ideal for removing the polish from their spotless vehicles.

Whatever the purpose, from polishing cars and high-class furniture, to mopping up paint or grease in workshops, or cleaning valuable plates used in print-making, recycled rags made from donated clothing are prized by North Coast businesses.

Marketed as ‘Vinnies Bag O Rags’, they are also an important fundraising source for St Vincent de Paul Society, which processes and packs huge quantities of them in its clothing recycling centre in Goonellabah. The 1600-square metre centre is named after Matthew Talbot, a 19th century Dublin ascetic who is an inspiration for ex-alcoholics worldwide.

‘We’re the largest such facility in regional NSW, handling one-fifth of the state’s total clothing donations,’ says Vinnies recycling and waste manager Angelo Grande. He explains that while the pick of the donations are sold in Vinnies bargain shops, the lesser quality wearables are exported and the remainder turned into usable rags.

‘It’s the ultimate recycling operation,’ he says, proudly, adding that his team of 20 remove all buttons and zippers – ‘You wouldn’t want to polish your car with a zipper!’  – and then blade-shred the rags for compacting into packs weighing from 5kg up to 200kg pallets.

Materials are mixed cotton, flannelette, cotton t-shirt and the top of the range, white cotton, that retails for $16 per 5kg pack.

Long-time users like Lismore’s McKeeCo General Engineering and Lismore Nissan & Kia speak highly about the humble product that supports local workers as well helping Vinnies community projects and local people doing it tough.

SCU’s artists are other fans, using the pure cotton on easily damaged copper plates as well as cutting up rags, wetting and beating them into pulp, and making special paper that students use in their printmaking.

Who would have thought cast-off t-shirts could have such an after-life?

Like the region’s many other users the SCU art staff and students enjoy supporting a local not-for-profit dedicated to community service. Lecturer Darren Bryant looks to his students for comment. They quickly nod agreement – no doubt they’re Vinnies bargain shoppers as well.

Learning of SCU’s rag usage, a far cry from wiping grease off industrial equipment (McKees) or cleaning sump oil from serviced vehicles (Lismore Nissan & Kia), Angelo Grande says, ‘This really is breathing new life into unwanted materials, and importantly it is reducing the flow of waste going to landfill.’

He estimates that each year the factory despatches several hundred tonnes of compressed rag packs to both end-users and the 28 Vinnies shops around the North Coast where they are stocked.

‘We believe there’s no such word as ‘waste’,’ Angelo quips, ‘and I reckon we’re putting that commitment into practice, truckload by truckload.’

Angelo Grande can be contacted for orders and inquiries on 0438 832 527.

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