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Baltimore's Bill Schapiro is a man born to be green
Apr '11
It's rare today to hear about anyone following in the shoes of their great grandparents to continue the century-old family business. That's what makes Bill Schapiro a rare and interesting breed. "I am very proud to be a fourth generation Ragman," says Schapiro. He boasts about the rag or junk business which was an early way of recycling and a means of survival for immigrants like his great grandfather Solomon in 1907 Baltimore. Recycling discarded clothing for industrial uses, helped feed, clothe and shelter the young Schapiro family and others struggling to make ends meet at the turn of the century.

Later, Schapiro's grandfather, about 20 years old at the time, started collecting junk with a push cart and went on to build a sophisticated recycling business. "This was all before being green became so important and popular," says Schapiro. Now, he enthusiastically thumbs through log books his grandfather kept 90 years ago and marvels at the detail of the early rag trade. Today, that old rag business exists as modern textile recycling and a multi-million dollar international business for Schapiro's Baltimore-based company, Whitehouse and Schapiro.

Schapiro was literally born into recycling. His mother and father met at a recycling conference in 1948. That organization, now called SMART (Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles), is an international association of businesses dedicated to recycling and reusing secondhand clothing and textiles. Increased awareness of the impact of waste on the environment has made the recycling of paper and plastics almost second nature, however, textiles are often thrown away, filling landfills and wasting valuable materials. Schapiro, a former president of SMART, led the association with a passion aimed at changing that thinking. His mantra: "SMART was green before green was smart." Schapiro and SMART urge everyone to "Re-use, Recycle, Don't Throw Away" when it comes to secondhand clothing and other household textiles.

Donating used clothing to charities like Goodwill and The Salvation Army is a great way to start the process. Those organizations sell the re-usable clothing at their stores, but also raise cash for their programs by selling tons of donated clothing to SMART recyclers who sort and sell it to developing countries. Materials not wearable are recycled for use as industrial wipers. Schapiro does point out that the United States remains the largest user of secondhand clothing. Thousands of thrift stores flourish in this country and around the world fulfilling basic clothing needs and doing a brisk business selling one-of-a-kind vintage fashion items too.

Bill Schapiro has carried on the family business and SMART's mission to environmentally recycle used textiles. Now he also helps finance and launch new businesses in the rag trade just like his great-grandfather did more than a hundred years ago. "My grandfather would be amazed at how "sexy" our industry has become!"

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