In April 2006, the Somerset County (N.J.) Division of Solid Waste Management (SCDSWM) partnered with Planet Aid, a non-profit based in Clifton, N.J., to create a unique municipal curbside textile recycling program.
Through the program, SCDSWM collects textiles and other recyclables at the curbside every other week. Customers are asked to pack the material in clear plastic bags marked “Textiles.” Somerset uses compartmentalized top-loaders so that each kind of recyclable — including clothes and other textiles — is source separated. After pickup, the textiles are brought to the Somerset County Recycling Center and stored in a warehouse. Planet Aid then collects the aggregated textiles from the recycling center each month. At their Clifton, N.J., location, Planet Aid bales the clothes and sells them to companies that redistribute the materials in underprivileged countries. The proceeds fund community development, education and health care projects in developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Diana Vigilante, solid waste manager for Somerset County, says the county has been collecting used textiles from residents for more than 15 years. A 1992 pilot curbside program in Manville, N.J., led to a rollout in all of Somerset's 21 municipalities in April 1993. The program was expanded once Planet Aid partnered with the county in 2006.
During its first two years of operation, the expanded program has enjoyed considerable success and has been adopted in other parts of New Jersey. Program staff attribute the success, in part, to the integration of textile collection with traditional recycling programs, using existing trucks and staff. In municipalities where the resources are not available to fully integrate textile collection with recycling or no curbside recycling exists, Planet Aid often can provide its own trucks and staff, making the program adaptable to each community's needs.
“Mandated recycling rates and positive revenues should encourage managers of recycling programs to include used textiles in their programs,” Vigilante says. “Since 1992, the textile market has paid revenue between $100 and $200 per ton.”
The benefits of textile recycling to county or municipal governments are numerous. The savings on solid waste disposal are an enormous incentive, more noticeable in a county like Somerset, where 16 out of the 21 municipalities privately pay for solid waste disposal. In this instance, residents are actively aware of the cost of hauling garbage away and, consequently, more likely to appreciate the savings.
Planet Aid compensates local governments for the amount of textiles collected. Moreover, the New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection pays a tonnage grant at the end of the year for the amount of recycled materials that counties and cities report. Planet Aid provides weight slips for each client so that they can take advantage of this grant.
Recycling textiles curbside also is a great public relations move, particularly in an age of “going green.” The fact that all proceeds go to charity helps cement the feel-good aspect. Meanwhile, the convenience for residents translates into an increase in recycling tonnage and a decrease in solid waste taken to a landfill, including textiles.
— Philip A. Perry is a manager in training for Planet Aid, Clifton, N.J. The organization's Web site is www.planetaid.org.