I founded Wearable Collections clothing recycling as a reaction to my best friend being paralyzed when he was hit by a car. My friends and I were constantly thinking of ways to raise funds and awareness for spinal cord research.
My light bulb moment? Seeing a garbage bag of clothing left in the hallway of my building. My thought: a bin inside the building would provide convenient used clothing disposal for residents while at the same time making for an efficient collection location. In addition, the clothing would be recycled and not thrown away. We could raise money for charity, and this would be the foundation of Wearable Collections ethos.
Gaining Momentum for Clothing Recycling Collection One Building At a Time
This was 2004, pre-Inconvenient Truth, so we didn’t have the momentum of the sustainable movement at our backs. It was very grassroots, reaching out to friends to ask their building managers if we could place bins. Some people understood what we were doing and took to it, while others were very hard to sell on our idea.
We didn’t waste much time trying to convince non-believers, but rather spent of our energy finding like-minded people. We were amazed by the amount of support we got.
Imagine a group with no previous waste management experience asking residential management companies to place huge bins to collect clothes for recycling in their building. It was a hurdle to overcome at the beginning but it’s a testament to our cause and prescient building managers who were eager to divert a portion of their trash that was directed for landfills.
From a Slow Start, Our Little Clothing Recycling Project was Starting to Become a New York City-wide Necessity
Textiles make up around 5% of the municipal waste stream. People were becoming aware of our over-consumptive habits and the damage that it was causing to the environment. As consciousness was raised, so was the demand for our service. We added a “request a bin” form to our website and were inundated.
What Started Out as a Project, Turned into a Mandate and a Personal Obsession
I educated myself on waste management by reading tons of books on garbage, and throwing lots of ideas against the wall. It was really exciting to brainstorm ways of creating hubs of convenient clothing collections: Residential buildings, schools, universities, community groups, and non-traditional places like the starting line at the ING NYC Marathon (Link here to watch a video of us in action) and NYC Greenmarkets. Each of these verticals brought their own challenges that invigorated us.
This past year, Wearable Collections marked 10 million pounds collected for clothing recycling in NYC. We are social entrepreneurs to the core and have stuck with our mission: to raise funds for organizations through the collection of clothing. Every year since our inception, we have generated more funds for our non-profit partners (charities and organizations) than we have profited, yet our for-profit status is still a point of contention to some who associate our little-engine-that-could small business to big-box-store corporations. In order to have long term success, we need to be sustainable both environmentally and economically.
Wearable Collections Proves That In-building Clothing Collection Works in NYC
While diverting 10 million pounds of clothing, shoes, and textiles from landfills for recycling in NYC is an accomplishment in and of itself, we have proved that in-building collection works. It is now possible to collect for recycling this way not only textiles but also electronic waste and organics.
Starting in 2008 to collect clothes at two GrowNYC greenmarkets, our collections are currently 31 markets strong, representing over 3 million lbs. of clothing, shoes and textiles in this segment only.
Our model of collecting clothing for recycling in NYC has caught the eye of municipalities around the country and can easily be replicated for other niche materials. With so many cities coming out with zero waste initiatives, textiles is now clearly on their radar screens. We plan on being part of the conversation until there is no more waste to speak of.
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