Innovation in Recycling

ARTICLE | Oct 19, 2016

Turning Textiles Into Reusable Fibers

Since its incorporation in 1989, the town of Queen Creek, Arizona (population 33,649; John Kross, ICMA-CM, town manager), has worked hard to combine a relaxed, rural lifestyle with all the amenities enjoyed by residents in larger communities, including access to entertainment, dining, shopping, parks, and infrastructure.

In 2005, the town was one of the fastest growing communities in the country, which prompted its new residents to request curbside trash and recycling services. By the time the recycling program was finally ready for council consideration in 2010, the Great Recession had deeply affected much of the budget for starting new programs and public outreach. While it was a perfect time to begin providing curbside services, public outreach dollars were nonexistent.

Due to these budget constraints, the town needed to integrate innovative thinking when developing new solid-waste and recycling services. It entered into numerous partnerships, which opened up opportunities not typically available to smaller communities, including the nation's first curbside textile recycling collection program inside the recycling cart.

The "Do More Blue Jeans"; program debuted with a pilot program in September 2013, running for three months and collecting more than 27,000 pounds of material. The program continued again in November 2014 in recognition of America Recycles Day and continued through January 2015. After redesigning the collection bag, the program will continue in the spring of 2017, with plans for the program to be an annual three-month event.

Partnering on Innovation

The textile public-private partnership required multiple entities working effectively together to be successful, and included the town's hauler Right-Away-Disposal (RAD), United and Phoenix Fibers, the Material Recovery Facilities, and the producer of the final product.

Since United Fibers already had a relationship with the Boys & Girls Club of Arizona, and the town is a partner to the group, they chose the local branch of the Boys & Girls Club to be the charitable organization to receive the program's proceeds. In the upcoming program, however, Queen Creek is planning on submitting a solicitation for developing and creating the bag, as well as the charitable organization to receive the material and the proceeds.

The town worked with these partners to create an informational packet and to develop a blue textile bag. The instruction sheet and bag were mailed to each resident. Residents could place the filled bag directly into their blue recycling carts on their regular recycling pickup day.

At the recovery facilities, the material would be sorted, processed, and broken down into fibers of an almost raw, cotton product. These bales of fiber then were transferred to an affiliate company, which used the fibers to create an eco-friendly insulation product called Ultra Touch. The insulation product is used in cars, new homes, and even dishwashers, and is sold in home improvement stores like Lowe's and Home Depot.

This cutting-edge pilot program collected more than 27,000 pounds of material, donated $2,700 to the Boys & Girls Club, and invited national media coverage in USA Today, Waste & Recycling News, the Earth 911 website (http://%20earth911.com), and Washington state's recycling hotline (1-800-RECYCLING; http://1800recycle.wa.gov/info.html).

Calls were also received from local governments in the United States and Canada, including offices in seven states and Calgary, Canada. Working together with other communities, Queen Creek was creating conversations and developing new ideas on textile recycling opportunities.

Fine-tuning the Program

The pilot program was extremely successful; however, there were some challenges to overcome before the program could go forward. The biggest hurdle was the textile bag itself.

The bag was not strong enough to withstand the recycling process in the blue cart collection, which included compaction in the recycling truck. In some cases, the textiles became contaminated and were unusable.

Another challenge was the instruction card. This was printed and placed separately into a mailing envelope. Many residents complained that they lost the instructions and were unsure what to do with the bag. In addition to the instruction card, the envelope also needed refining.

Some residents stated that they did not receive a mailing, since they thought the envelope they received was just an advertisement for the Boys & Girls Club, so they did not even open the envelope. Finally, cost was a factor in order to address all of the above-mentioned challenges.

In order to address the bag situation, a more durable textile bag was found with a weave pattern, similar to an industrial-sized onion sack but not a mesh style. Instructions were printed directly onto the larger, more durable bag. The envelope was redesigned with the Do More Blue and town logos so that residents knew that the material was from the town.

In an effort to better inform residents to watch for the redesigned bag in the mail, staff members took advantage of social media, and other town outreach methods to advertise about the upcoming textile bag mailing and program. Community partners and sponsorships covered the additional costs for the redesign, the better bags, and outreach efforts.

These community partners were provided with space for their logos to be printed directly onto the textile bags and advertising inserts were allowed in the envelope. The size of the logos and advertising inserts were relative to the dollar amount of a sponsorship.

Queen Creek launched its second annual textile collection program in 2015 and expects to continue this program as a yearly event. It gives residents a convenient opportunity to recycle their unwanted textiles, creates an innovative product, closes the recycling loop, and keeps jobs and dollars in the community.

 

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