Public Works: Recycling Textiles
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Public Works: Recycling Textiles

re-fashioNYC is doing for clothes what the bluebox did for bottles and cans.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

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Photo by Housing Works.

If you’re like us, you’ve probably got a closet full of Chumbawamba t-shirts, worn-out banana hammocks, and egregiously misnamed parachute pants (thank God for the timely intervention of that skydiving instructor) that you don’t know what to do with.

Sure, you could get rid of them down at the Goodwill, or the Sally Ann, or the mystery box up the road that claims your clothes are going to charity but really sells them to subsistence farmers in Ghana. But maybe you have too many things to carry, or you don’t drive, or you’re just lazy, and eventually a whack of reusables and recyclables ends up in a landfill.

There is an easier way.

In 2011, New York City implemented a program with the unwieldy moniker “re-fashioNYC,” which makes it easier for people to recycle their old stuff via clothing disposal bins inside their apartment buildings. The initiative just celebrated hitting a major milestone: over the past two years the program has collected one million pounds of clothes, shoes, and assorted textiles. (For those of you who don’t measure your closet-fodder by weight—”Honey, I bought you 700 grams of underwear”—that’s the equivalent of about four million pairs of athletic socks).

The program is a partnership between the NYC Department of Sanitation and a non-profit organization called Housing Works, and since its inception in April 2011 has placed bins in more than 250 buildings. Any building with ten or more units can request a donation box, and the program was also recently opened up to businesses (such as hotels) that produce significant textile waste.

Collected material is sorted at a Housing Works processing centre, with about half of it being shipped to their thrift stores for retail sale. The remainder, throwaways so tattered and soiled they’d earn exhalations of disbelief at a staging of Les Miz, are sold to a textile recycler.

Apart from going to a good cause, the principal benefit of the re-fashioNYC, of course, is that it’s convenient, which encourages people to recycle rather than toss in the trash. The program also provides tax receipts and donation reports.

While one million pounds sounds like a lot, it’s estimated that New Yorkers send about 200,000 tonnes of textile-waste to landfills annually, so there’s plenty of room for growth.

Pretty much everyone wins with re-fashioNYC. Time to put something similar on the City Hall project list?