Considering all the tremendous work that goes into textile production, even the most simple cotton T-shirt – produced several times by workers in permanent struggle for decent working conditions and better wages – it makes sense to make the best possible use of our clothes. But that is not always the case.
In the U.S., only about 15 percent of all textiles were reused or recycled, about 2 million tons in 2011, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
For example, in San Francisco alone and in accordance with the municipal entities, 39 million tonnes of textiles are deposited in landfills each year.
While San Francisco is only a small part of a larger problem, it is a problem that the city decided to try to minimize through intelligent recyclable bins.
With the new Zero Textile Waste Initiative the city found in partnership with I:CO, and with a company specialized in recycling and reusing textile, Goodwill, and other leaders of community and nonprofit organizations, a solution to achieve the objective of ending the textile waste by 2020.
To achieve this, the city will strategically distribute the Goodwill’s innovators goBINs designed by frog, in residential apartment blocks throughout the city. Focusing the action in residential apartment blocks, the city can reach a significant percentage of the population providing a simple and affordable way to dispose of old and used clothes, since, 40 percent of all residential fires are in apartments, one of the highest rates in the country.
The “bins” technology allows people who make donations to have access to a deductible tax via a simple QR code. Sensors in the Goodwill bins send alerts about the timing to empty and collect donations, avoiding excess. And when the time comes for the collection and operation of emptying the bins, a built-in conveyor belt system shortens the process to less than five minutes.
For textile material that makes no sense to donate to second hand stores (for example, damaged clothes with holes) the city is distributing the I:CO bins to retail partners, such as H&M and North Face, and also in public spaces ( libraries, schools, universities, etc.). These products are then transformed by the I:CO into other types of products: carpets, insulating material, curtains or new fabric.
It is intended that, with all these options, the task of recycling textiles is not a heavy and expensive task. As described by Leslie Bilbro, Director of Donations of SFGoodwills, in a press release:
“Indulgence is the most important factor for people to decide what to do with the items they no longer need. Paradoxically this is the main reason why textiles end up in landfills, historically, it has been easier to throw away or put in the trash. Responding to the current urban lifestyle, our goBIN will help citizens to do the right thing, contributing to a better environment and for our fellow citizens who need a second chance in life.”
The struggle of the globalized textile
The devastating collapse of a clothing factory in Bangladesh early last year, brought up one of the most important problems of the global supply chain of clothing and textiles. The tragedy has made since then, the country increase its minimum wage and try to improve working conditions in factories. But there is a much more complex world behind the whole process of manufacturing clothes. A new series of NPR’s Planet Monkey, analyzes in detail, people, machines, and systems that are behind the most basic clothing item in any wardrobe, the Cotton T-shirt.
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