Fri May 28, 2010

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New York has always led the charge for innovative policy changes -- from restaurant smoking bans to calorie counting legislation -- and it is on the right track once again.

With the recent decision to launch a textile recycling initiative, New York City is once again proving itself to be a municipal leader on social and environmental issues. But while we applaud them for their insight, we would like to see the effort go even further. Unfortunately, a significant opportunity to do good and save money is being left on the table.

For those who don't know about the issue, reports this winter detailed how major clothing retailers in the city were destroying unsold merchandise and throwing it away rather than recycling it or donating it to charities. Needless to say, this caused a considerable uproar among consumers, businesses and environmentalists alike. Last month, New York City policy-makers announced that they are taking a commendable step to help combat textile waste.

Specifically, the Department of Sanitation has begun accepting bids for outside companies to obtain the rights to establish 250 textile collection sites. But because of the restrictions in place, the winning bidder will only be able to collect about 2,500 tons of textiles per year. And given that the Department studies show that New Yorkers generate over 315,000 tons of textile waste each year, that's simply not enough to make a significant dent.

According to the Department of Sanitation it costs taxpayers about $83 per ton to remove textile waste. All told, that's about $22.7 million a year!

And sadly, the new Department of Sanitation plan will make a dent in less than 1% of it.

It's our hope that New York City will loosen the restrictions so more companies can get involved, more textile waste can be diverted and more savings can be realized. Right now, a number of for-profit textile recycling groups and smaller charitable organizations recycle unwanted textiles. We want to help. We can make a difference. But sadly, we are prevented from entering the bidding.

We believe the Department of Sanitation can--and should--strive to divert as many recyclables as possible from the municipal waste stream. There are many textile recycling programs effectively and efficiently doing good and helping our environment. With their help, we could further educate and encourage residents and see dozens of additional clothing collection bins, neighborhood recycling centers, high-rise recycling and school recycling programs put into place.

The bottom line: A truly collaborative effort among these organizations, whether charitable or for-profit, could make a much bigger impact, helping the city to save an additional $6 million a year by collecting as much as 50,000 tons of unwanted clothing and shoes annually.

Given the possibilities, it would be a terrible shame to the let systems and enthusiasm of for profit and charitable recycling organizations go to waste.

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