In June 2012 NCRA News launched an intermittent series on textile reuse and recycling .The 7th most prevalent material type in the overall residential disposal stream, textiles are squeezed between Other Miscellaneous Paper and Remainder/Composite Inerts and Other. The 2008 California Statewide Waste Characterization Study states that textiles represent 4% of residential waste in California.
TEXTILE REUSE AND RECYCLING: DROP-OFF RECYCLING PROGRAMS
ByJan Sako, Public Relations Manager, Campus California; a Richmond-based non-profit organization operating a clothing donation program funding poverty-fighting programsDrop off textile recycling systems come in two main kinds: manned and unmanned. Both types have distinctive pros and cons that make it unlikely that either of them could become the sole solution for removing household textiles from the waste stream.
For a very long time, manned textile drop-off points or donation centers run by the large charities like Goodwill or Salvation Army, as well as many small, local groups were the best known and in many places the only means of disposal for unwanted but still usable clothing. Their locations are well known by the public and the donation centers are able to process large volumes of textiles that are often re-sold or in some cases distributed free of charge back to the public right on the spot. The donation centers often accept also household items or other goods.
On the other hand, there are also limitations for this type of service: since the donation centers are usually connected with a store, there is too few of them to be able to handle the amount of textiles available. For example a city of 100,000 people may need 20 or more drop off points, but it cannot economically support 20 or more Goodwill stores. The operating hours for the manned locations are often the same as the working hours of the public, which severely limits their usefulness for a large segment of the population. Another consequence of the small number of manned drop-off points is that is can be inconvenient for the public to drive all the way across town, so people just do the easy thing and dump the textiles into the trash bin.
Unattended textile collection points or donation boxes started showing up in the Bay Area more than 10 years ago, copying a model used for many years on the East Coast and Europe. Currently there is a mixture of non-profit and for-profit operators on the market, with boxes of all colors of the rainbow .
The number one advantage of unattended collection box over a manned drop-off point is convenience. The number of boxes that can be sited in a city is in theory limited only by the number of businesses willing to accept a box on their property. That means it is entirely possible for a drop off box to be located within 5 minutes drive from any place in the city. In fact there are a number of municipalities in the Bay Area where this has already been accomplished, like San Jose, Antioch, Vallejo and others. Drop-off boxes are available for the public 24/7, a big advantage since many people use them after work or on the weekends. Donation receipts are not a problem any more since the IRS decided that a donation made to a qualified charity’s donation box does not require a written tax receipt when certain conditions are met. The use of drop-off boxes by the public has increased significantly over time, thanks to the increased availability of boxes, as well as the public getting to know the locations and what the boxes are for. The volume collected by Campus California, the largest such program in the Bay Area increased from 1,500 tons in 2005 to 4,000 tons in 2011.
With the arrival of the unattended drop-off box we moved from purely textile reuse programs to a mixed reuse/recycling model. The materials collected from drop-off boxes can be of varying quality and the operator must be able to deal with all of them. The sorting centers that buy a large portion of the collected materials from collection box operators evaluate each piece and then pass it on based on what it can be used for. The best quality wearable clothing could be sold in the USA or exported, the items that are too worn out or damaged go to rag processors or other recyclers based on the type of material.
The success and increased visibility of drop-off boxes has had a number of unintended, but to some extent inevitable consequences. To be fair, not all drop-off box operators are equally on top of their game and overflowing or tagged boxes will eventually result in action by the local city council.
Good and sensible local ordinances have usually been supported and complied with by the drop-off box operators. There is however an ever growing effort from the largest US recipients of clothing donations to get rid of what they perceive as competition. Textile drop-off box operators have found themselves as a target of a sustained negative campaign nationwide and in the last several years increasingly in California. State bills sponsored by Goodwill Industries targeting donation boxes have become a yearly occurrence in Sacramento, and any time a new county or city ordinance regulating collection boxes is introduced, a Goodwill representative is usually present as a “stakeholder party” even though Goodwill does not operate any donation boxes there.
They have never bothered to explain why is it that the donation box is their competition, instead of the garbage bin, which after all is still receiving 85% of all textiles that are not wanted any more by the public in the USA.