Million Pound Challenge, explained

November 8, 2010

GrowNYC's textile recycling program recently announced the Million Pound Challenge, an effort to reach more New Yorkers in order to help them recycle their unwanted clothing, linens, and shoes. We spoke to Christina Salvi, Assistant Director of the Office of Recycling Outreach and Education, about textile recycling, why it's important, and how far along we are with the Challenge.

Where did the idea for the Million Pound Challenge come from?
6% of NYC's residential waste stream consists of textiles, like sheets, towels and unwanted clothing. That's 193,000 tons a year, which means that New Yorkers throw away 733 pounds of textiles every minute.

We've been collecting clothing and textiles at select Greenmarkets since 2007. We were in the process of evaluating our promotion of this program when the latest numbers came in at 750,000 pounds collected. So we thought, "Let's go for a million!" Right now we’re around 900,000 pounds.

Where have those 900,000 pounds of textiles been going?
We partner with Wearable Collections, a textiles recycling company that gives a certain percentage of their proceeds back to charitable organizations. They not only accept material at some of our markets, but also provide collection bins and do pickups at residential buildings.

Wearable Collections takes the material to a sorting facility where items are designated as usable or non-usable. The usable items will go to secondhand markets like thrift stores. Materials that are stained, ripped, or otherwise non-usable are further sorted into grades like cotton and synthetic blends. These textiles are then distributed to different markets and manufacturers that can turn them into things like car seats, insulation, and industrial rags.

Where can people drop off their stuff?
We are hoping to continue expansion of the program, but for now we have weekly drop-off sites at 8 markets in 3 boroughs on 4 days of the week. We also have special collections taking place during the Million Pound Challenge, like at the Bronx Borough Hall Greenmarket on November 2, 9, 16 and 23.

People can bring any clean and dry textiles including clothing, paired shoes, sheets, towels, hats, bags and belts. We offer receipts for tax deductions as well.

People should wash everything before they donate?
Yes. It's okay if things have stains, but they should be laundered before donation. You can bring them in a plastic bag or just pack them in a reusable bag that you can empty into bins at the drop-off site.

What happens if you reach 1,000,000 pounds?
1,000,000 million pounds is a nice big number, but we see it as a great place to start. Keeping textiles out of landfills helps reduce disposal costs for taxpayers and prevents landfilling of materials that could create powerful greenhouse gasses. It will be great to reach a million pounds, but we will need to keep working to divert more material from going to waste; what it would mean is that we've made that many more people aware and have activated them to participate in recycling.

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