recycle bins ready for pick up

Spring Cleaning and Recycling

recycle bins ready for pick up

Recycling in Saint Paul

The temps have finally climbed into the 50s. I’ve thrown open a window or two, letting a little clean, fresh sunshine and breeze into the house. Spring is finally in the air. And that means spring cleaning time.

With spring cleaning comes recycling. You might have noticed recycling is front-page news in Saint Paul right now. As of today, April 7, Saint Paul has moved to single-sort recycling bins. The city is expecting an increase in the amount of material collected, especially since a wider range of plastics, including #1, 2, 4, 5, and 7, are now accepted. Minneapolis already has single-sort recycling, phasing it in during 2012, and they saw a big boost in volume and participation.

Along with curbside recycling, Ramsey County and Hennepin County also have yard waste recycling programs, and starting this spring, Ramsey County’s yard waste program will also accept organics, i.e., food waste, even bones and meat scraps, which are typically a big no-no in home composting because they can attract larger vermin and develop foul odors as they decay. Saint Paul appears to be on track for curbside compost pickup as soon as 2016.

The urbanist movement is green almost by default. Recycling and composting are becoming the norm. But many people don’t know that you can also recycle fabric and textiles. Sure, most of us already know where to donate all the shoes and clothes we don’t want any more or have outgrown, but what do you do with that tee-shirt that’s developed holes and stains? Or the collection of lonely single socks on the back of your dryer? Or the shoes with the detached soles and worn out liners.

The internet is full of reuse ideas: slip a sock over your hand for a washable duster. Use old tee-shirts as rags for polishing the car or cleaning your bike after a muddy spring ride. Cut out the good bits of fabric and use them for a DIY project, like a pant-leg yoga mat bag.

But one household really only needs so many polishing and cleaning rags and we’re not all crafting wizards. So what do you do with all the fabric you don’t want? Throw it away and let it sit in a landfill for the next umpteen gazillion years?

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, 14.3 million pounds of textile waste was generated in the United States in 2012. Only about 16% of that was “recovered” for reuse or recycling. It can take 1 to 5 months for 100% cotton to break down. Many synthetic fabrics don’t ever break down.

Luckily the Twin Cities has a couple of options for getting that material out of the landfill-bound waste stream.

Eureka! Recycling handles the curbside recycling for Ramsey County. Their website lets you know that you can donate reusable clothes and linens. If you read carefully, you’ll see that “stained and torn items are okay,” too. Make sure that you bag everything securely in plastic bags so it can’t fall out or get wet. Once material is wet, it mildews quickly and becomes useless. Clearly mark bags “Clothes and Linens” and leave it on the curb with your blue recycle bins.

Hennepin County recycling does not accept fabrics, but they point residents to an alternative: Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries will also take those worn, unusable fabric items off your hands at any of their donation points. They also take broken or worn out shoes, belts, and purses.

All the material you want to recycle needs to be clean and free of contaminants, such as oil, grease, or solvents (those should always go to your local hazardous waste disposal site).

What happens after you donate this stuff? It gets sorted, baled, and sold to wholesale textile recyclers. From there, fabrics are turned into new cleaning products (rags), insulation, packing material, even carpet padding. Cottons can be used as components in high-end paper. Zippers and buttons can be stripped off for reuse. Nothing, literally, goes to waste.

So as you get your spring cleaning done, make sure you don’t toss those old scrap clothes, linens, or even curtains. They can be put to good (re)use and kept out of our landfills.

Rebecca Airmet

About Rebecca Airmet

Rebecca is a Twin Cities transplant from the mountain west. She is an editor, writer, and bicycle advocate with Saint Paul Women on Bikes. She enjoys riding fast and far with her husband and nice and easy with her kids.