What (not) to do with discarded clothes in Barcelona: Percentil

A disclaimer: I wanted to try one of the ‘we’ll resell your garments for you’ services just as an experiment. I have never been attracted to reselling as it seemed more hassle than gain, but these services keep popping up and Percentil was recommended to me as the ‘next big thing’ by reasonable people. So I wanted to have a first-hand experience, expecting only mild disappointment as it should be when trying to resell fast fashion stuff to consumers who already have it all.

However, as you will read below, now I have an impossible-to-close dispute with Percentil and, convinced of their wrongdoing, would not recommend using it. But let me explain it…

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August 25: Signing up

One creates an account and says ‘give me a bag’, then this comes:

You also tell upfront if you will want your rejected stuff back. The obvious answer: no! Once it’s out, it’s gone. I don’t care if the Percentil sorting ladies wear them instead of discarding them. They boast about donating to NGOs the stuff that they reject but I’m not impressed with such claims… you know my stance on the garment abundance.

August 30: Package and instructions

I applied for the bag on Saturday, and had it in mail next Friday, so on 5th working day it was with me. It is small and fits neatly in any letterbox.

And there are additional instructions in there:

A) The general how-to with a couple of annoying points. This thing of ‘once we charged 5.95€ for this service but now we don’t’ is ridiculous. Or the clear contradiction between ‘really fill the bag’ and ‘take it to a pick-up point on your own’. I wouldn’t risk dragging it around public transit when that bag is even half-full.

B) More specifications of the garments to be sent. To me the insistence on ‘we are very picky’ only ignites the wish to fuck with them. Also, I’ve looked around what they sell and it is by no means spectacular. Also, I’ve seen enough stuff there without a brand name. Even ‘with a slight defect’, so, please… Providing measurements in cm instead of the brand sizing would be more helpful. And singling out certain shops as beneath them while accepting others is very ugly (why would CnA be worse than HnM?) just to then sell them anyways. Yeah, I checked that by browsing their merchandise.

C) And they’ll include you in a special club if you do refrain from fucking with them and provide at least 20 items with at least 16 of them being in acceptable condition. As I’m explaining below, I couldn’t refrain from messing with them just to try out their rigor (and to imagine that I’m a normal person who does not organize regular swaps; imagine I just pruned my wardrobe and want to get rid of all I’m discarding in one bag): I’m sending 12 things and expecting 3 to 4 rejections, i.e. 25-33% rejection rate. Sound about right after all I’ve seen at swaps.

That leaflet is also your contract with Percentil. A contract that you send them and do not get to keep any proof of what you put in the bag. As you will see later, this is the biggest problem of such system…

The bag is big, though. Very big.

Selection

They want a full bag, but what does a minimalist do to just try their service? Accumulate from other people! I’m sending 12 items. 10 is the minimum. (Although, if you think about it, how are they going to enforce that? Suspend your ‘membership’?) Only two of those 12 have been mine. I did a thorough soul-searching and spreadsheet reorganization trying to find the superfluous items in my wardrobe. Two is the answer.

There are three garments from C, and we are both very curious about how it will go with the Nudies. A new pair costs between 100 and 200€, and these are in a great condition.

Most of the 12 are from Giulia who moved in August, and left some of her stuff with me for the next swap. I was too lazy to go sort through the swap seed suitcase which is at the Ateneu, so I’m sending her stuff. It’s all in the name of proper research, pupsik!

Below you have my full list with all info, my expectations for their selection process and the result of it.

Men’s

1. Nudie Jeans. Thin Finn Black Ring. 99% organic cotton, 1% elastane. Made in Italy. W31 L32.
Should be accepted. Got lost, more on that below...

2. Levi’s shirt. 100% cotton. Made in Bangladesh. M.
Should be accepted. Accepted. Price to buy 18.95€. Gain for me 4.70€.

3. Cheap Monday shirt. Air Short Sleeve Denim Check. 100% cotton. Made in China. M.
With a hole! Should be rejected. Rejected as too worn out.


4. Suit shirt. 100% cotton. Made in China. L.
Should be accepted. Accepted. Price to buy 23.45€. Gain for me 5.81€.

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Women’s

5. Zara top. Cut off fabric composition tag. Made in Turkey. S.
Should be accepted. Rejected as stained.

6. No brand shirt. 100% cotton. Made in India. No size.
Should be rejected because of lack of size tag. Rejected as too worn out.

7. Zara vest. Shell 100% lyocell. Lining 100% cotton. Made in China. M.
Should be accepted. Rejected as stained.

8. Poncho. No tags of any kind. Wool.
No idea, we’ll see. Accepted. Price to buy 9.95€. Gain for me 1.65€.

9. Coat. No tags of any kind. Loose buttons.
Should be rejected because of lack of a sizing tag. Rejected as too worn out.

10. Vibram hiking boots. Dakota XCR. Made in China. 42 1/2.
Should be accepted. Rejected as type of footwear they do not sell.

11. Asos blouse. No fabric composition tag but plastic alright. No country of production tag. 38.
2015. A hand-me-down from Kristīne. 53 wears since I started tracking, 10 wears in the first 8 months of 2019.
Should be accepted. Accepted. Price to buy 9.95€. Gain for me 1.65€.

12. HnM skirt. 95% cotton, 5% elastane. Made in Bangladesh. M.
2017. Swap find. 31 wears, 4 wears in the first 8 months of 2019.
Should be accepted. Accepted. Price to buy 4.95€. Gain for me 0.82€.

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September 3: Pick up / drop off

Ugh… I made the mistake to check the drop off points. They do this with a ‘logistics solutions’ company and that mean’s quite few points in tobacconists, stationery shops, etc. I have two nearby, at 10 and 11 min walk from my place. And my 12-piece bag could be brought there without too much effort. And I was so attracted to the idea of somebody just picking it up from my place! But now my conscience is against it.

My bag was small enough to fit it into one of the big reusable grocery bags and carry it… so I did walk down to a tobacco shop for a drop off. However, from what I gathered from the conversations between the shopkeepers, receiving a Percentil bag implies them asking for a special pick-up while I had assumed that it would be picked up as part of a general Celeritas package run. So the impression I got was that, even if you take your bag to a drop-off point, it is likely that it will require a special pickup anyways, i.e. my walk to the tobacconist doesn’t mean that I have prevented a truck trip across Barcelona. Hence the only benefit of doing it yourself (if you have a empty-enough bag which shouldn’t be the case) is that you do it on your own time instead of waiting around for a pick-up.


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September 6: Confirmation of reception

I dropped it off on Tuesday, September 3rd and received an email on Friday confirming that they’ve received it. The somewhat shocking thing is the estimated turnaround: 3 weeks (!!!) or even more if they get many more bags in the upcoming days. Ugh. Not cool. OK, it’s sorting, pricing and taking photos, but 3 weeks do not feel adequate for that. I am not impressed!

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Then, on September 20 (two weeks later), they had sorted it out… but found only 11 items! And my experience goes downhill from this point…

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Selection explanation

Apparently I have to be grateful for them even showing me reasons for discarding garments, only because it’s my first time. However, the selection seems almost reasonable. I am really surprised only about the Vibram boots.

Pricing

As you would expect, peanuts. And all that, of course, hinges on somebody actually buying them.

I’m not sure if it’s an automatic smile-file email once you have sent your first bag in, but I received en email next day (September 21) congratulating me (?) that now they’ll be paying double on garments…

And they included a table of the percentage of the price you would get before…

…and now!

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The lost item

So they had found 11 garments in the bag I am convinced I put in 12. And, curiously enough, exactly the most expensive one is the one missing… Well, I sent an email on 21st specifying all the details and encouraging them to look for it:

As I had sent my inquiry in on Saturday, they responded on Monday that they would look into it:

On that Friday I got a response that they had revised my bag and had found no error, i.e. no Nudie jeans. For some reason they remind me about their high selection criteria – as if I had complained about something they had discarded – but offer no way to proceed with this:

Starting to doubt my own sanity and – this being the only scrap of paper involved – I asked them to look for my filled out leaflet:

As it again happened to be Friday, I got the response on Monday:

And one more week later – on October 7 – I received this:

And this:

And this is where the whole thing stops… as there is no way to close this dispute. I am convinced that somebody at their reception chain has stolen that pair of jeans, be it the Percentil policy or individual initiative of an employee, while they claim that there were 11 items when they opened that bag.

I have been going back and forth in my head thinking about ways to possibly prove it but there are none. Even if I had taken a video of myself counting and describing the garments and then closing the bag, that could still be questioned as in if you really closed it, if that was the bag, etc.

And meanwhile they kept sending me emails asking for feedback before having resolved my problem and telling that they have made new, better photos of my items… And asking for feedback. So here you have feedback alright. And those poor garments up there are getting discounted already. And then come more emails urging me to ‘share my wardrobe’ on my social media so that people would buy it… Ugh.

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So six weeks after I had the brilliant idea that I should try Percentil, I am exhausted and pissed off at them. You see, I am a very trusting person and hadn’t even considered that something like this could happen. Curiously enough, though, I did receive a message commenting on me telling IG that I’ll be trying Percentil out to count well how many things I’m putting in my bag… so maybe they already have this fame but I’m slow to catch on? Although the person n question was doubting if the supposedly discarded items aren’t getting sold too.

All in all, a shit experience where I expected only a mildly annoying one. The key, of course, is the model of ‘you send us and we’ll tell you’ that – turns out – can easily lead to such impossible-to-solve disputes. I won’t be trying any of similar services soon and I don’t recommend buying from them. Fuck ’em, organize a clothes swap instead! How? This and this. Or establish an old-school consignment store where a staff member evaluates your stuff at the moment (while frowning at your fast fashion wares). Having seen a couple working very well in New York, I think there would be enough space in Barcelona… Maybe there already is one? I shall Google.

A week of waste, an assessment

Waste assessment is a basic first step for the zeroish-waste curious. This can be done by looking at the garbage in detail or looking at the incoming stuff. I’ve recorded all incoming items for our 2-adult household and the volume of outgoing garbage. It’s not pretty, brace yourself, and show me your numbers afterwards!

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Monday, August 19

IN

Lentils + glass jar + aluminum lid.
White beans + glass jar + aluminum lid.
Pickles + 2 glass jars + 2 aluminum lids.
Artichokes + 2 glass jars + aluminum lids.
Pickled beets + glass jar + aluminum lid.
Pickled sprouts + glass jar + aluminum lid.
Mayonnaise + glass jar + aluminum lid.

Soy milk + tetrabrick + plastic screw top.
Barretxa + 4 plastic baggies.
Cheese + plastic wrapper.

Cherry tomatoes + 2 plastic wrappers + 2 cardboard trays.
Chocolate + 5 paper wrappers + 5 aluminum foil (wrappers.

8 receipts, still unclear how much BPA-laden are those and if I’m fucking up all my recycling with this.

OUT

1 small compostable bag of organic garbage.
1 empty paper bag.

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Tuesday, August 20

IN

Bread + paper bag. Will be used afterwards to collect our paper trash, though.

OUT

1 small compostable bag of organic garbage.

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Wednesday, August 21

IN

Snickers bar + 2 plastic wrappers.

Nectarines + 2 cardboard trays + 2 plastic wraps + 9 fruit stickers.
Aubergines + 2 cardboard trays + 2 plastic wraps.

Watermelon + 2 plastic wraps.
Pimientos de padrón + plastic baggie.

Loose carrots in my own mesh bag.
Loose cucumbers.

Receipt (14 paper).

OUT

1 small plastic bag (from Sunday’s bread) of organic garbage.
1 plastic bag of plastic/aluminum recycling (in a bag that Marina had used to cushion her last package).
1 paper bag (from last week’s bread) with paper waste.

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Thursday, August 22

IN

Museum ticket.
Restaurant reservation note.
3 receipts.

Watermelon + 2 plastic wraps.
Cream cheese + box + lid.

OUT

1 small compostable bag of organic garbage.

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Friday, August 23

IN

Bread + paper bag.

Beer + 4 cans + 2 plastic bags.

OUT

1 small compostable bag of organic garbage.

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Saturday, August 24

IN

Chickpeas + glass jar + aluminum lid.
Turkey + plastic envelope + cardboard wrapper.

Potato chips + 2 bags.
Smoked salmon + plastic envelope.
Melon + plastic wrap.
Watermelon + plastic wrap.
Pimientos de padrón + 2 plastic baggies.

Mushrooms + 2 plastic trays + 2 plastic wraps.

Loose lemons + 2 fruit stickers.
Loose avocado + fruit sticker.
Loose nectarines + 7 fruit stickers.

Loose potatoes in my mesh bag.
Loose bell peppers.
Loose zucchini.
Loose cucumbers.
Loose lime.
Loose cherry tomatoes.
Loose onions.

Receipt.

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Sunday, August 25

OUT

1 small compostable bag of organic garbage.

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Totals

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Alternatives

As usual with waste, avoiding most of these would require me changing my routines and doing more housewifing. And that, as usual, circles back to the extent I am willing to dedicate more of my time to the pursuit of less waste (I already wrote a rant about this a year ago)… In order of ease of change, these are the ways of reducing our waste:

A) Designate a bread bag and stick to it.

B) Deciding that buying zero waste is more important than ‘we are throwing these out’ discount trays of fruit and veggies (this week: nectarines and aubergines). This is an unfortunate choice I’m not sure about… a classic in the universe of sustainability decision overwhelm.

C) Switching to buying beloved watermelons (and just melons) whole with the risk of buying an overripe and garbage-ready fruit it entails. I already had three of those this year, and really hate that disappointment after paying for and carrying those 5-8kg home.

D) The next step would be choosing my lemons and avocados based on if they have lost their stickers already. Bah! Or changing my fruit vendor. Changing would also be needed for pimientos de padrón and mushrooms. And adding an another shop – after finding one that’s fine with filling my own containers – to our shopping routine for all animal stuff.

E) Then, making legumes at home. We don’t own a pressure cooker, hence stovetop legumes imply several hours of some vigilance, and additional heat and humidity that life in Barcelona does not need. I’m still very unsure if this way of cooking beans is more energy efficient than the industrial ones. But buying cooked legumes leave their jars behind.

F) Mayonnaise. I have never tried to make the proper traditional mayonnaise (as opposed to several vegan options and replacements) but what I know about the care to be put into it does not make it appealing…

G) Soy milk. We tried it once with my grandma but without knowing that it has to be boiled. Internet says that dry soy beans can be used, so this sounds quite plausible although not that attractive. Again, time…

H) Beer. Buying on tap and in growlers is an options…

I) All the pickled stuff, ugh… we have done some very basic pickling, and olives can be easily bought zero waste here. Anything beyond that would rather mean foregoing then starting a wide pickling operation here.

J) As for other forms of preserving produce, only now – after 5 or so years of mild interest in the zeroish waste movement – it dawned on me that I would eat some stuff very rarely or never if they have to be zero wast, namely the veggies I usually get industrially frozen. In my case those would be green peas and edamames. A kilo of green peas in shell cost around 4-6 €/kg here when they are in season. Mostly they are not. Even when you get the fresh ones – and if you are not a green pea monster and are actually able to shell them without eating them all – a tiny bowl of green peas is what you get. And there would be no edamames… or only the very overpriced restaurant edamames that most probably came from the same frozen plastic bag that the ones I buy now. Well, one of my big issues with zero waste has always been the assumption that ‘if I didn’t see/touch it, it’s not my waste’…

K) Industrial shit, like Snickers or Philadelphia cream cheese, are not really an issue. Those happen quite rarely here. As for snacks like barretxa and potato chips… I’d have to explore the zero waste shop in St. Antoni.

L) Chocolate. For all my love for Casa Perris, their chocolate (no wrapper) is very much meh in comparison with our Blanxart favorites. And Blanxart’s supply chain is clearer and more eco. Ugh.

M) The amount of unnoticed paper going around is just annoying, and the Spanish internets do not agree about the recyclability of the receipts. And, as far as the alternative is giving people my email to send me the receipts, I’m not sure what’s worse.

N) And don’t even get me started on fruit stickers. I’m currently doing a little artsy project with them, as to channel my annoyance.

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As for the garbage, it is summer in Barcelona – hot, humid, and full of gnats wishing to make sweet love in our garbage – hence avoidance of the immediate compost is a priority. Public health first. And, no, home composting is not an appealing idea for us. C is outright disgusted by the thought, and I don’t feel strongly enough to try to cajole him. Rigorous separation for the city organic fraction is how far we are ready to go.

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So, I’m not very happy or inspired after this. I feel guilty, but I’m not willing to add more places to go to my shopping list… Also, a curious observation: I am more willing to do zero waste with stuff that lasts more. For example, for the quite occasional Casa Perris or Safareig trips I get all prepared, with a tight list and all corresponding containers. But I am far more relaxed about the plastic wraps that go into the garbage almost immediately. Minds work in curious ways…

Are you doing anything to reduce your waste? What have been the easiest steps? And the hardest? It is painful to understand how a life dedicated to zero(ish) waste would be possible if only we were ready to to actually dedicate much bigger chunks of time to it or restrict our consumption to only the easily available… neither is an attractive option.