“Saving the world, one piece of trash at a time,” is the motto for Textile Waste Solutions. Since Christopher Mkpado founded the company in 1995, he has quietly recycled tens of millions of pounds of textiles that would have otherwise ended up in our local landfill.

LD: Tell me about Textile Waste Solutions.

CM: Basically … it is a new kind of trash company. The difference between what we do and what the regular trash companies do, the big difference, is they take trash from homes or from wherever they pick it up, take it straight to the landfill and bury it. We have a different idea. The idea is to take this specialized stuff that is recyclable and recycle it so that it doesn’t go into the landfill.

Textile waste is about 8 percent of our total waste; it’s a very valuable number in the sense that 95 to 98 percent of textiles are recyclable. The economic benefit from that is huge. It outweighs other recyclables. … Let’s take our immediate environment, Santa Barbara County. The need for industrial rags in Santa Barbara County is huge. Santa Barbara County will spend up to $1 million every year on rags.

LD: Wow. That’s a lot of money.

CM: So here you have $1 million of product that is used in this county that used to come from outside of the county. The raw material was right here, but in the past it was buried in the landfill. You lose on tax revenue when you do that, too. … When a contractor … picks up a bag of rags or a box of rags, he pays sales tax, right? Where does that sales tax end up? It goes back to Orange County or San Diego or wherever. Basically, it goes out of the county. So look at the $1 million industry that the county must pay on rags, $75,000 of sales tax is lost.

LD: My speculation is that most people probably don’t realize that the product is actually available locally. They’re probably patting themselves on the back thinking, “Oh, this is recycled.”

CM: You’re correct. We’re very happy to hear about the green movement now and all this excitement that people are getting into, but the thing is we’ve got to do it and do it right. We want to do it where we can reap the most economic advantage. That’s what it’s all about.

When I started, my business was export-based … now I realize there is this local need for this product. We can serve this market in this county. The county will be making extra tax dollars.

LD: How did you start this business?

CM: We started when I came to this country (He’s originally from Cameroon). My wife, Sharol (Mulder), and I were married in Korea. We came to Santa Barbara, her hometown, when she was pregnant with our son Christian (now 15). … I was looking for what I could do and I have a background in export. … So I decided I would start looking for things that I could export.

LD: And you started out sending used clothes to Third World countries?

CM: Jim DePew (who lived in Montecito and owned thrift stores all over) had been trying to export used clothing and failed. That’s how it all got started. … But he couldn’t supply us the quantity we needed.

So then I started looking into how else can I get extra supplies. And I found that there are thrift stores all over the place, right here where I live. So then I decided to approach all these thrift stores and introduce myself. Some of them were kind of lukewarm about the whole idea. Some of them embraced the idea right away, Alpha Thrift Store being one of them. And so we … started taking from thrift stores and decided, hey, we need a warehouse, we need this, we need that, and that’s how the whole thing came about.

LD: So at that point in time, your goal was to find stuff that was reusable?

Vital Stats: Chris Mkpado

Born: July 29, 1963, Cameroon

Family: Wife Sharol Mulder; children Christian, 15, Alexandra, 10, and Kele, 10

Civic Involvement: Coaching AYSO soccer; Santa Barbara County Foster Parents Association

Professional Accomplishments: Worked in the international export business throughout Asia, creating markets in Africa, China, the Philippines and the former Soviet Union, among others; owner and founder of Textile Waste Solutions

Little-Known Facts: Chris’ middle name is Udodi, which means “peace.” Chris and Sharol adopted their daughter, Alex, through the foster care system.

CM: Right.

LD: And assuming there was stuff that wasn’t reusable, was that then being recycled at that point or was that being thrown away?

CM: At that time it was being thrown away. … About 30 percent of everything at that time went to the dump.

When the idea of the industrial rags came, I said, why not? If we can recover 30 percent of this material we turn over it’s going to balance what we’re losing on export. And that’s why we are where we are today.

LD: And now all your materials come straight from thrift stores.

CM: That’s true. … Thrift stores dispose of about 80 percent of all donations. … At Alpha Thrift Store, for example, every week we are there with a seven-ton truck.

LD: Wow.

CM: Yes, every week, seven tons. And that’s one store.

LD: Now I know the city of Santa Barbara has started to buy your product through Buena Tool Co., and you’ve got the city of Santa Maria on board.

CM: Yes, actually we’ve gotten the most help from the city of Santa Maria. The city of Santa Maria took leadership from Day One.

LD: Why is textile recycling so low-impact compared to other types of recycling?

CM: Textile recycling is the only recyclable that does not consume a lot of energy to be able to develop it for reuse. It is the only recyclable that you may not need water to make it useable. You don’t need any chemicals to recycle textiles, compared to say plastics, where you need tons of powerful chemicals to recycle plastic. Not that I’m against that, but I’m trying to point out the advantages of recycling textiles. Textiles use the least amount of resources. … after recycling about 3 million pounds of textiles, my electric bill every year is under $1,000.

LD: That’s phenomenal.

CM: That’s the energy consumption to recycle about 3 million pounds. Go recycle 3 million pounds of cans and see how much you pay in your electricity bill. … You just need the machine to compress it, a little bit of wire, and send it out. … The beauty of this whole thing is that right now, as we speak, there is a need for industrial rags. This product is going to come from somewhere.

Take the city of Santa Barbara, for example. The city was bringing in close to 80,000 pounds a year of rags. And that 80,000 pounds went into the landfill. It’s a disgrace. And now by changing the way things are done, the city has prevented an extra 80,000 pounds from going into the landfill, without even hiring anybody to do the job. I mean, how much would it cost the city to divert so much waste?

LD: Your enthusiasm is infectious. What do you like do when you’re not working?

CM: I like to coach AYSO soccer, that’s my passion. I can’t wait for the next soccer season.