While some communities expand the recycling of textiles, Evanston is considering sharp limits on clothing donation boxes that would limit residents’ recycling options.

A draft ordinance backed by aldermen at last week’s Administration and Public Works Committee meeting targets the visual pollution caused by sometimes unsightly and graffiti covered donation boxes by imposing licensing fees and maintenance standards and by sharply limiting the number of boxes that could be located in the city.

But the city, which in other instances has tried to increase recycling improve its reputation as a green community and to reduce the expense to taxpayers of dumping material in landfills, makes no provision in the proposed ordinance to reduce the amount of clothing that ends up in landfills.

By contrast, San Francisco last month announced a zero waste textile initiative designed eliminate by 2020 the disposal of apparel, footwear and linens in landfills.

That program plans to place more clothing recycling bins at San Francisco retailers.

A federal Environmental Protection Agency report says that in 2011, the latest year for which figures are available, about 13 million tons of clothing and other textiles were discarded in the U.S. adding up to about five percent of the total municipal solid waste stream.

Only about 15 percent of the textiles were recovered — taken out of the flow of material sent to landfills.

A 2009 study from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity says textiles made up an even larger part of the municipal waste stream — nine percent — in Illinois.

At least one city, St. Paul, Minn., has opted to add textiles to the material picked up as part of its city-run curbside recycling program.

Because textiles that get wet can’t be effectively recycled, St. Paul has told residents to put the clothing into labeled plastic bags before placing them into the recycling bins.

Even SMART — Secondary Materials and Recyled Textiles — a trade group for commercial firms in the textile recycling industry — agrees that donation boxes should meet the proposed city rules for identifying the operator and being clean and well maintained.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. recycling regs make sense

    Considering all the controversy surrounding the true nature of GAIA collection boxes (they package and sell the donations as rags, not a true non-profit, etc) I very much like the idea of knowing to whom I am donating my gently used goods.  I'd also like to be able to donate items that are best used as rags and know that I'm putting them in the correct bin.  A centralized location (or several of them) with boxes that are clearly labeled and regularly maintained would be a huge improvment over the current mish-,ash of different boxes scattered here and there in parking lots around town.  Perhaps there might be no fee for those who register and maintain their boxes and fines which provide financial support for the program for those who don't ?

  2. For-profit “donation” boxes work by misleading the public
    Keep in mind that most boxes in Evanston advertising themselves as “donation boxes” for charity, now that the Salvation Army no longer has boxes in the area – are mostly for-profit recyclers. See this article in the Chicago Tribune, which details how these businesses define recycling as “charity work,” and make a profit off of donations, while others might make an extremely small donation to charity from the profits they recieve.

    I don’t oppose some kind of textile and home-goods recycling drop-off in the City, but I don’t like the idea of these businesses profiting off of the public’s ignorance while ignoring maintenance and care of their property. If they’re going to make money off of Evanston’s castoffs, they can make formal arrangements with the City to pick up our textile recycling and pay them for the privilege of doing so.

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