Textiles are among the fastest-growing segment of the residential waste stream, with 85 percent of the material getting landfilled, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And to help divert this accumulating waste, Solon, Ohio-based Simple Recycling is collecting textiles curbside for free.
Through its program, the company is covering the cost of material and other related expenses and collecting what can be reused in its original condition as well as what must be broken down and recycled.
“We focus on simplicity and convenience by offering pickups based on current curbside schedules for other materials,” says Sonny Wilkins, vice president of municipal relations at Simple Recycling. “Residents just put out a recycling bag that we provide, and we collect it.”
The company currently offers its collection program in seven states, mainly in the Mid-South, Midwest and Northeast, and its newest customers are three Connecticut municipalities. The new program in Connecticut involves more than 100,000 homes in the New Britain-Bristol-West Hartford area. And in November 2017, the first full month of running the program, the company collected almost 18,000 pounds of textiles in New Britain alone.
“While it is too early to tell how effective Simple Recycling will be in decreasing textiles that will go into our landfill, numbers will inevitably improve, leading to lower tipping fees and more environmentally friendly landfill sites,” says Paul Amarone, special project manager for the Office of Mayor Erin Stewart, City of New Britain. “Our residents can use the service as they please, whether it’s every other week or three times a year. As long as the volume stays up enough to see a difference both environmentally and financially, we hope for this partnership to continue for years.”
For the program, New Britain residents place their pink Simple Recycling bag next to their normal recycling bin for collection. If residents need additional bags, they can call the number on the bag and receive the bags at no charge.
On average, the company receives half a pound to a pound of material per household a month.
“We are collecting a lot of material, and there is a market,” says Wilkins, who receives a per pound rate on what the partners accept.
Once the material is collected it’s brought to a local warehouse, weighed and placed onto a trailer. When the trailer is full it’s sent to Simple Recycling’s thrift store partners who pull out what can be sold in their retail stores. What’s left comes back to Simple Recycling to be sent to international exporters that deal with textiles.
Thrift shops take 10 to 20 percent of the material and the exporters take 50 to 60 percent. The remainder, which can’t be sold in its original form, goes to recyclers/processors that break down the material to make insulation and carpet padding.
The key to keeping the service free and sustainable is liquidating fast and route density.
“The program is expensive to run,” says Wilkins. “I have drivers gas, labor, etc., so we need volume, and we need to be sure we don’t have a warehouse full of material just sitting there.”
The company did a mailer campaign with each of the three Connecticut municipalities prior to launch, followed by a second mailer one week before launch. For the campaign, municipalities provided an address list and Simple Recycling paid for and conducted the mailing.
The implementation process has been a fairly turnkey operation. Simple Recycling does all of the operational implementation and most of the public relations, while the cities supplement the public information efforts.
“Having a turnkey process was important to us for two reasons,” says Mark Mehall, superintendent of solid waste operations for the city of Bristol. “One, Bristol does not have to expand extra funds to implement the program. Two, we do not have to expand any additional operational resources.”
Simple Recycling launched curbside textiles collections four years ago, beginning in Southeast Michigan.
“We tested the concept, and once we realized it worked we began focusing on branching out where it made sense,” says Wilkins. “For instance, the Northeast is recycling conscious so once we had markets established, we ventured further in that direction, first to the Boston area. That worked well, and then we went a little south to the Hartford region.”
Wilkins projects curbside textiles collection will become common within three to five years.
“Charities run programs where [potential donors] receive something in the mail, a call or e-mail that requires residents to remember or take action to have material collected,” comments Wilkins. “In our program if residents happen to have unwanted textiles, they just put them in a separate bag from the rest of their waste and it goes to the curb the same day.”