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Tempe adds clothing to Earth Day recyclables

Tempe is now one of the few cities in Arizona that recycles fibers or used clothing, which is not only good for the environment but also creates more jobs. (Photo by Shelby Bernstein)
Tempe is now one of the few cities in Arizona that recycles fibers or used clothing, which is not only good for the environment but also creates more jobs. (Photo by Shelby Bernstein)

Clothing was added for the first time this year to the list of recyclable items accepted at Tempe’s annual Zero Waste Recycle-thon, attended by more than 650 people Saturday.

Tempe Public Works collects hazardous household waste at the Tempe Fire Training Facility all year. In honor of Earth Day, volunteers accepted documents to be shredded, electronics, plant waste and for the first time, clothing, linens and towels.

The city recycles about 300,000 pounds of material each year, according to the Tempe Household Products Collection Center.

The landlocked city needs to be conscious of reusing materials, said Lucy Morales, Tempe Education and Solid Waste Recycling coordinator.

Tempe contracted with Chandler-based Phoenix Fibers, a clothing recycling company, and started collecting clothing in March 2012, Morales said.

The company processes denim and cotton fabrics into material that can be used in home insulation and soundproofing.

Clothing items make up 5.3 percent of total waste that ends up in city landfills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“It’s good for the environment, economically and socially, not taking it to landfills,” Morales said.

In the past, Tempe referred people to Goodwill but oftentimes, clothing items like single socks couldn’t be reused and still ended up in landfills, Morales said.

Phoenix Fibers pays Tempe 85 cents per pound of clothing they collect and sponsors seven collection bins around the city, Morales said.

The inclusion of clothing as a recyclable item is important because clothing cannot be recycled in household blue bins, Morales said.

Morales saw an upward trend of textile reuse companies opening in 2008, but many of them closed when the economy froze, Morales said.

“More companies are getting into green industries again,” she said.

The emergence of green businesses is good for both the environment and job creation, Morales said.

Of all the Valley cities, Tempe offers the most opportunities for residents to recycle, Morales said.

One of the city’s unique recycling methods is the Nike Reuse-a-Shoe Program, which turns old athletic shoes into athletic surfaces, new shoes and zippers.

ASU postdoctoral biochemistry researcher Rob Lawrence recycled a box of clothing and some electronics Saturday.

“It’s great people are finding different, creative ways to recycle old things and make new things that are useful,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence has worked with campus recycling to dispose of the Styrofoam used to ship lab materials and equipment. The Styrofoam is reused or turned into bricks, Lawrence said.

“Americans tend to have a lot of stuff they need to get rid of,” Lawrence said. “It’s better it’s disposed of properly instead of in landfills.”


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