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Framingham and Chelmsford have launched curbside textile recycling programs in the past few months by partnering with private companies that provide the service at no additional cost to the community.
Each community partnered with Simple Recycling, which provides pink bags that residents can fill with unwanted or torn clothing, blankets, pillows and other textiles and place curbside on the community’s usual recycling pickup day. The company will also take smaller households items such as pots and pans, silverware, glasses and mirrors.
Simple Recycling turns a profit by reselling the collected items. Items in good condition are sold to local thrift outlets, “middle-tier” items are sold to international markets, and torn or damaged items are processed into raw materials for reuse, according to the company website.
On average, a U.S. resident throws away 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles each year, according to the Council for Textile Recycling, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 15 percent of all post-consumer textile waste is recycled each year, leaving the remaining 85 percent to go to landfills and other waste facilities.
North Andover and Brookline were the first towns in Massachusetts to begin using Simple Recycling, followed by Ashland, Burlington, Grafton, Merrimac, Natick and Wenham.
Framingham Selectman Laurie Lee brought the idea to her community after discovering the company at the Trade Show during the MMA’s 2017 Annual Meeting in January. She said that recycling picked up steam in Framingham after the community went to single-stream toters.
“This is just another level of convenience for the community and for residents,” she said. “The level of products they take is huge, things that you can’t drop off anywhere, that if you can’t reuse or sell – like sheets, pillows and ripped clothing – that people would throw away because you can’t really donate.”
Daniel Nau, Framingham’s highway and sanitation director, said the community reached a three-year contract with Simple Recycling that’s renewable each year.
“One of the things that’s really attracted us to this program is, first, it costs us nothing, and second, it’s a service we’re not currently offering,” he said. “I would say that for most folks we’ve heard back from, we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback.”
In Chelmsford, where Simple Recycling also has a new three-year contract, Recycling and Solid Waste Coordinator Nick Parlee said the partnership with the company came about through WasteZero, a company that makes bags used by Simple Recycling, which presented the option to the town’s Recycling Committee.
“It’s really difficult to argue when they say, ‘We’re going to do this at no cost and give you a rebate,’” Parlee said. “We’re optimistically hoping to make about $3,000-4,000 and save another $5,000-6,000 in tonnage [fees].”
Parlee found himself having to dispel a perception from residents that the program would detract from charitable clothing donations.
“I explain to them [that] we’re trying to capture what would normally go in the trash [such as torn and unwearable clothing],” he said. “If you have a charity you like, I encourage you to continue to doing that.”
Chelmsford Town Manager Paul Cohen pointed out that textiles don’t degrade well in landfills, and that residents often have quantities or quality that aren’t suitable for donation.
“Rates are rising at trash energy facilities,” Cohen said. “This is a way to help mitigate some of that increase. And it meets the safe objective of providing additional recyclable materials and diverting it from the waste stream.”