Go the Extra Mile: Recycle Your Textiles 

August 9, 2023
Textile recycling bins are available throughout town. From Plant Aid boxes placed the schools, 60 tons of textiles have have been collected since 2020. Staff Image.

Textile recycling is rapidly becoming an important part of the town’s recycling effort. Erin Dorr, Energy and Sustainability Consultant, and Liz Antanavica, Refuse and Recycling Coordinator, share information about all the benefits of textile recycling, the dos and don’ts, with the goal of encouraging more residents to get involved.

To make it convenient, there are Planet Aid textile recycling boxes located throughout Bedford in easily-accessible places. There are collection bins at every school, with two at Lane School, John Glenn Middle School, and Bedford High School, and one at Davis School. There is also private textile recycling at the Bedford Motel. Pick-up at the Planet Aid boxes occurs weekly with the possibility of more if there is a concern about overflowing bins.

Planet Aid has big yellow collection boxes in conenvient locations around town. Image: Planet Aid

Planet Aid boxes have been at the high school since 2020. In total, 60 tons of textiles have been collected from the schools alone. The schools’ partnership with Planet Aid raises money that goes to the schools for student-based programs such as science enrichment or towards PTO to fund events. 

Textiles include more than just clothes. Other items made with woven fabric or cloth such as stuffed animals, pillows, and shoes also fall under this category. Research shows that 95 percent of textiles can be donated or broken down into materials for wipes, pillow stuffing, car seat stuffing, and insulation and 45 percent of these donations can be reused as suitable clothing. 

There is a misconception that ripped or stained clothing is unsalvageable, but these items still have a use and the fibers can be used for insulation in housing. The descriptors to remember when dropping off textiles are that the items must be clean, dry, and bagged. Also, nothing moldy, contaminated with bodily fluids, or wet is allowed. 

It is also important to remember that textile recycling cannot be mixed in with regular blue bin recycling and cannot be placed at the curb but must be dropped off at one of the bins throughout town. 

Dorr and Antanavica suggest some tips to integrate the process of textile recycling into everyday life. These include having two reusable bags or hampers in the laundry room, one for items in a good-enough condition for donation and one to drop off at textile recycling. Also, remember to include your kids in the learning process, they say. Getting kids involved is especially important: one example is how quickly the middle schoolers have picked up on food waste composting at JGMS. They are quick and eager learners.

Textile recycling is centered around being thoughtful about your own needs, others’ needs, and the planet. It also can be summarized by the philosophy that there should be “more to the life of clothes than buy it, wear it, trash it.”

Today, there is less of a stigma around donating and receiving secondhand clothes, as shown through the growing popularity of thrifting. There is a surge of secondhand clothing apps such as Thread up and there is a brick and mortar consignment store called WearOvers in Bedford. 

Many large companies such as Nike and Puma are also taking advantage of the environmentally conscious values of this generation and launching sustainable shoe lines made from recycled materials.

Textile recycling is important in combating climate change because manufacturing textiles requires huge amounts of water and energy. Since so much value in terms of time and materials has already been invested in a single item, finding “a second life for every piece of clothing and keeping it out of the trash is beneficial.” 

The Massachusetts Waste Ban, enacted in November 2022, also led to textile recycling becoming more common. It is now against state law to throw textiles in the regular rubbish collection. Towns in the area have run out of landfill space, and instead, trash goes to incineration which results in burning and high CO2 production that is extremely harmful for the environment. The Waste Ban is constantly updated and expanded; supporters hope that food waste will be added onto the list next. https://www.mass.gov/news/new-waste-disposal-ban-regulations-take-effect-today

The good news on food waste is that the high school, JGMS, and Lane kitchens have been composting since 2022. Full separation of waste in the cafeteria began at JGMS this year and Dorr and Antanavica are “very hopeful to expand this across the district.”

Black Earth has an agreement with the JGMS to pick up the compost and bring it to their facility in Groton, where it is processed on site. Ideas are circulating about bringing the Black Earth processed compost back, and using it for the school gardens and local farms. 

Dorr and Antanavica promote the composting drop-off program that also partners with Black Earth, at the Compost and Recycling Center in Bedford. It is free with spots for 50 families, and there is an online interest form on the town website. 

The Compost and Recycling Center is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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Bridget Sheahan is a Bedford High School, Class of 2024 student.

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