What’s Going on With Clothing Recycling in Austin?

If you’ve been following the news lately, you might have heard about the city’s new curbside clothing recycling service. In December, Simple Recycling began a new partnership with the City of Austin, collecting used clothing and home goods from Austin Resource Recovery customers and recycling them. The program was aimed at reducing the nearly 3,300 tons of clothing that Austinites send to the landfill each year.

Simple Recycling Bags

But, since the program has launched, several local thrift stores and nonprofit organizations (like Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and the Austin Assistance League) have raised concerns that it will hurt the local reuse economy. They worry that many of their donations will now go to Simple Recycling, a for-profit company that sends much of what it collects to communities outside of Austin.


Let’s dive a little deeper. What are people saying about the Simple Recycling program?

On the one hand…
The Simple Recycling contract is aimed at helping Austin to reach its ambitious zero waste goal of diverting 90 percent of our waste from the landfill by 2050. Each year, Austinites send about 3,300 tons of clothing to the landfill. Nationwide, the EPA reports that only about 15 percent of textiles are donated to charities (as opposed to being thrown away). The idea behind the Simple Recycling curbside service is that it tackles the 85 percent of clothing and homewares waste that are currently being thrown away. And it does all of this by making recycling as convenient as possible and at no cost to the City of Austin. In the two months since it has been in operation, Simple Recycling has already collected 200,000 pounds of material.

Goodwill

One of Austin’s many Goodwill thrift stores (photo courtesy of the Austin Goodwill Instagram Page)

On the other hand…
Local nonprofit organizations argue that Austin’s clothing donation habits are different than the national average. They say that Austinites donate their clothes at a much higher rate than the rest of the country and that they’ve already seen a drop in their donations since Simple Recycling started operating in Austin. They also point out that Simple Recycling is a for-profit company and have raised concerns that many Austinites aren’t aware of that when they see a green bag show up at their doorstep. They believe that Austin’s solution for dealing with used clothing and home goods should be more homegrown, utilizing existing nonprofit organizations that not only divert the waste from the landfill, but also use the donations to support important causes, like job training, education, and disaster relief.


So what happens next?
In the wake of this debate, City Council took a fresh look at the city’s three-year contract with Simple Recycling, even going as far as considering canceling the contract. At a City Council meeting earlier this month, they decided not the cancel the contract (at least not yet). Instead they decided to direct the City Manager to:

  • Return to City Council in 30 days with the results of an investigation into options for amending the contract with Simple Recycling
  • Spend the next six months studying the effects of Simple Recycling on local nonprofit organizations
  • Come up with new ideas about how the city might be able to partner with local nonprofits to increase donations
  • Create a public awareness campaign (and work with Simple Recycling) to inform Austin Resource Recovery customers that Simple Recycling is a for-profit company and to encourage them to donate used clothing and household items to local nonprofits first

 


Want to learn more?
On last week’s Shades of Green radio show, we discussed this issue with Traci Berry (Senior VP of Community Engagement and Education at Goodwill), Adam Winfield (President and Founder of Simple Recycling), and Brandi Clark Burton (former Senior Policy Advisor to Austin Mayor Steve Adler and current Program Manager for Earth Day Austin). You can listen to the entire show above.

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