NEW YORK — Here's the truth about fashion: It changes quickly. So what do you do when you're stuck with a closet full of barely worn shirts, dresses and shoes?
Starting in September, New York City will launch one of the largest textile recycling initiatives in the nation. The aim is to make it easy to donate clothing, almost as easy as throwing it away.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans pitch almost 10 pounds of socks, jeans, shirts and sheets per year, per person. In New York, where 190,000 tons of textiles entered the city's landfills in 2008 alone, the plan would place 50 collection bins in high-traffic areas.
"I moved three times in the last five years, and each time I ended up throwing away clothes," says 25-year-old Tracy Feldman. "It is just too hard to haul it all over the city. If there was a bin on my block, I wouldn't hesitate to recycle them."
The city is taking bids for a 10- to 15-year contract with a nonprofit company that will be responsible for the bins. Goodwill Industries International is one of the companies bidding on the contract.
"There has not been another program like this that we know of," said Goodwill spokesman Alfred Vanderbilt. "We think they are being very creative and we hope this sets a new standard."
A Goodwill Industries survey of 600 adults in the United States and Canada found that more than half of people who donate clothing say they wouldn't go more than 10 minutes out of their way to make a donation.
Robert Lange, the director of the Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling in New York, said his department discovered the same problem.
"You can open a black bag at the landfill and see what looks like new clothing," he said. "It is easier to throw it out than recycle."
Not all used clothing can be recycled into usable clothing — take those old, stinky sneakers and torn clothing. But that doesn't mean those items can't be donated. While Goodwill is mostly looking for clothing that can be resold, there are ways to recycle even the old tattered pieces.
At Wearable Collections, a New Jersey-based textile recycling company, almost half of donations are good for resale, according to the owner. The other half is split nearly evenly between being used for rags for businesses like the automotive industry and being broken down for insulation. Less than 5 percent of the total is unusable and goes to the landfill.
Officials say that if New York's campaign is successful, it could lead to a nationwide movement to recycle clothing.
Not only would that clear up some room in the nation's landfills, it could also create jobs, said Brenda Platt, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance based in Washington, D.C. She profiled 20 textile recycling companies and estimates that the industry creates 85 times more jobs than landfills.Comment on this story
Wearable Collections has been offering free bins to apartment buildings and dorm rooms throughout the East Coast for the last few years. The company's employees collect the bins as often as once a week, and tenants never have to go farther than their lobby to get rid of old clothing.
Adam Baruchowitz, the owner of Wearable Collections, is enthusiastic about city governments and charities working together. "I think it is going to raise the consciousness of textile recycling, which is a good thing for us," Baruchowitz said.
And if all goes as planned, New York may be just the beginning.
"If this is as effective as it can be, it will influence other locations," Lange said. "We will be leading by example."