Old socks or torn jeans? Lake County expanding program to keep them out of landfills
After a modest start, a recycling program for clothing and textiles such as blankets and quilts continues to expand with 61 collection boxes spread throughout Lake County.
Final figures are pending, but the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County estimates nearly 500,000 pounds of materials were dropped in bins last year.
"I think it's a number of different factors. It's a steady growth," said Merleanne Rampale, education director of the Gurnee-based agency. "It takes a few years for these programs to grow."
She launched the program in 2014 at six sites. There now are collection bins at 46 locations, including village halls, fire departments, park districts, schools, and senior centers. Some sites, such as Gurnee and Grayslake with three bins each, have multiple collection boxes.
Visit swalco.org for details, including acceptable and unacceptable items and an interactive map of locations.
Rampale said textiles are the fastest-growing category in the U.S. waste stream. About 85% of discarded clothes and textiles end up in landfills.
"I always offer to make people aware and instill the importance of deferring these materials," she said. "It's a pretty easy thing to do."
Twenty-one clothing/textile bins were added the past two years, including one Thursday at the Avon Township center.
"One of our goals at the township will be to provide educational community programs on the importance of recycling," said Avon Township Supervisor Michele Bauman.
"Many residents, including myself, need more education on recycling and the benefits it will have on our community and our planet," she added.
Increased awareness of the disposal issue has contributed to the momentum, according to Rampale. So have the ease of use of the sites and the variety of accepted items, particularly as homebound residents cleaned house during the pandemic, Rampale said.
"We'll take a single sock. We'll take a pair of jeans that are ripped and torn. We'll take a T-shirt with a stain on it," she said.
An increase in fashion cycles boosted by social media also has created a mindset in which people treat clothing as more of a disposable product, according to Rampale.
Clothing and textiles in the bins are collected and sorted by Wipeco Inc. Items are handled responsibly with 95% repurposed, reused or recycled in a "full-circle" program, Rampale said.
The Solid Waste Agency of Lake County collects a small per-pound fee from Wipeco and shares it with participating communities.
"Not only is it helping on the environmental side, but for the communities, too," Rampale said.
In Lindenhurst, the roughly $2,000 annual rebate helps fund programs like 50/50 tree replacement and rain barrels, said Village Administrator Clay Johnson.
Lindenhurst is an original member community and one of the most prolific, collecting nearly as much clothing/textiles by volume as Gurnee, Rampale said.
Johnson said the village publicizes the program in newsletters, social media posts and website updates.
"I believe we have a conscientious population of residents who, because of our proximity to green spaces like the forest preserves, understand and appreciate the benefits a program like this provides," Johnson said.