Each year, 14.3 million tons of clothing gets dumped into landfills. Only 15% of used textiles are recycled or donated, meaning 85% goes into landfills.
One company is slowly changing that.
Simple Recycling started doing business in Michigan four years ago. They have a long list of client municipalities in Michigan, including Westland, Ypsilanti, Canton, Farmington Hills, South Lyon, Southfield, East Lansing and White Lake.
Simple Recycling partners with municipalities to offer curbside recycling in addition to the recycling programs already offered. Simple Recycling collects many items that most curbside recyclers do not. This includes clothing of any kind, including coats and shoes; jewelry; purses; hats; toys; blankets; curtains; pillows; sleeping bags; tools; silverware; dishes; pots/pans and backpacks. There is no cost to the homeowner or the municipality. In fact, the municipality gets a small kickback for offering the program.
Before the program begins, Simple Recycling sends residents information packets, bags and tags for larger items. On garbage day, a Simple Recycling box truck collects the bags and tagged items. They leave a replacement bag for each bag used.
In metro Detroit, Simple Recycling partners with the Value World thrift store chain. When a truck finishes its route, they unload and weigh collected materials at a Value World store. A team of Value World employees sort the materials. Any premium items are priced and placed on the selling floor.
Everything else gets bailed and loaded back on the truck, headed for a facility in Westland. From there, the items go to a recycling facility in Ontario where they are separated again. Clothing that is tattered but wearable goes to Third World countries. Textiles in serious disrepair, such as ripped towels and destroyed clothing, are recycled into a variety of items, such as shining rags and backing for car seats.
“Pretty much everything we pick up does not go to the landfill,” said Bill Wilk, regional manager of Simple Recycling. “Over 85 percent of used textiles still go into landfills and we are trying to reduce that number.”
One of the biggest barriers to adoption is the perception of supporting a for-profit company that is taking resources away from trusted nonprofits like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. The Conservancy Initiative has been urging Northville Twp. to use Simple Recycling since January of 2017. Township trustees have been pushing back, they say, because they don’t want this program to hurt local charities.
However, charities in metro Detroit communities that use Simple Recycling actually support the recycling program.
Judy Wells, director of the St. Mary Community Outreach Center in Wayne, said the Simple Recycling program in her community has not affected donations.
“It makes it easier for us,” Wells said. “If we can’t use something, our volunteers take the items home and put them on the curb to dispose of it. The stuff people put in the Simple Recycling bags isn’t the best to begin with.”
Farmington Hills charities report donations have increased since the city started offering curbside textile recycling with Simple Recycling.
This is a common trend because Simple Recycling educates residents about recycling used textiles. Donation is a form of recycling. Often residents donate higher-quality clothing and they put torn or stained garments in their Simple Recycling bag and place it at the curb.
“As a resident and non-profit organization president, I see Simple Recycling as a great resource for us to continue taking care of our Earth,” said Michele Austin, Director, Foster Closet of Michigan – Oakland County in Farmington Hills. “We utilize Simple Recycling for our items that could be ‘repurposed’ instead of going into a landfill. Our community is extremely generous with their donations. I would not say that we have seen a decrease in donations, just the opposite.”
Between September and December of 2016, Canton Twp. diverted 13,500 pounds of clothing and Simple Recycling gave them a check for $150.
“We’ve had no issues at all,” said Bob Belair, public works manager. “The program is pretty seamless. We have a simple agreement with them. They send information to homeowners. They each get two bags. We’ve had no complaints at all.
“We provided Simple Recycling our waste hauler routes and they send trucks out the same day. We see it as another option for residents. For those who still want to donate to Goodwill, they can still do that.”
The city of Westland has participated with Simple Recycling since 2015. Their landfill tipping fees have decreased and Simple Recycling pays them a nominal monthly fee. The only issue they experienced was when they first started the program. Simple Recycling missed a few bags that were placed at the curb so those homeowners called the city.
Devon Adams of the DPW department fielded the calls. Each time he escalated to Bill Wilk of Simple Recycling.
“Bill responded immediately every time,” Adams said. “He made sure the bags were picked up right away. Also, Simple Recycling replaced green bags with bright orange bags to make sure their drivers could see them.”
Brownstown started using Simple Recycling in May 2016. They report no problems and no resident complaints. They strongly recommend it to any municipality considering it.
Milford received a couple of calls when they first implemented the program because their trash hauler accidentally grabbed the bags. Since then, no problems.
Oakland County diverted over 234,000 pounds of material from landfills using Simple Recycling in 2016. They expect that number to go up dramatically for 2017.
“It’s definitely popular,” said Mike Csapo, general manager of the Resource Recovery & Recycling Authority Of Southwest Oakland County. “Every little bit counts when you’re keeping waste out of the landfill. It’s free. It’s easy. It’s important because it’s taking material out of the landfill and putting it back in the value chain.”