Podcast Recap: Textile Recycling Programs and Change Agents

Monica and Haley welcome Erin Dorr to episode two of Sustainable Solutions with Planet Aid. Erin is a sustainability professional for the town of Bedford, Massachusetts, and is involved with several sustainability programs at the local schools. Erin shares her story of becoming a “change agent” to create repeatable textile recycling programs, and other government sustainability initiatives.

Read on for conversation highlights, or listen to the podcast in full on Apple, Google, Spotify, or Planet Aid’s website.

Who is Erin Dorr?

Erin spent 20 years working in the financial industry in downtown Boston, until she took a career sabbatical. “In that time,” she explains, “I got involved in organizations and causes that were meaningful to me, which I didn't have time to do when I was working downtown. That led me to this path of composting and recycling. I live in the town of Bedford, and I got to meet some of the great people here and really just started working with facilities in that capacity.”

Today, Erin works with schools and municipal buildings on schoolwide programs to reduce consumption, waste, and the town’s overall climate footprint. Throughout Bedford, Erin helped establish textile recycling programs by strategically placing Planet Aid yellow clothing collection bins at local schools, and launched a variety of sustainability initiatives around them.

Why Focus on Schools?

When asked why she puts so much time and effort into school-based projects, Erin had three excellent points:

“Our students are the generation that's inheriting climate issues, even though they aren't the generation that created them. That being said, they are the change agents that are going to take us to our goals in 2050.

It also is important because a lot of these students are doing some of this work at home. They're recycling at home. They're composting at home. They may know that they shouldn't be tossing textiles in the trash at home. So when they come into school, if they're getting a different message than that, it can be confusing. It can be inconsistent.

Subsequently, when they learn those good habits at school and they're teaching their peers, they could go home and teach their families too. So it creates a little spider web of education and knowledge.”

Bedford, MA – An Eco-Conscious Town

Filled with trails and bicycle clubs, Bedford truly cares about doing its part for the planet. The town recently completed a climate impact study, which will help determine how close the community is to achieving an energy net-zero plan.

In addition, both the state and local government support programs and laws that will make a positive impact on the environment, such as the Massachusetts textile waste ban, which aims to keep clothes and other textiles out of landfills. This law gives people more incentive to find responsible and sustainable ways to reuse or recycle their unwanted clothes and stuffed dolls.

Successful Sustainability Initiatives at Bedford Schools

The sustainability programs in the Bedford school district Erin supports have a positive impact on the students, parents, and community at large. Some of her highlights include:

  • Establishing Planet Aid’s yellow clothing collection bins in convenient, accessible locations, which have collected more than 60 tons of textiles since 2020 - “That’s the same as 30 elephants!” Erin explains.
  • Explaining the lifecycle of clothing, and the importance of reusing and donating clothes to prevent waste and reduce their carbon footprint.
  • Writing articles in the school newsletter to inform parents about the schools’ green initiatives and how they can contribute to the textile recycling program.
  • Turning donation drives into challenges, which gamify sustainability and boost enthusiasm and excitement.

These donation drives also support the schools, which receive funding based on how many pounds of used textiles they collect. Future projects at the school can use these funds for new sustainability endeavors, such as climate-resilient building practices, cafeteria reform, and hosting “share fairs” where students can trade out their clothes and find new styles from classmates.

Challenges with Textile Recycling Programs

In discussing the challenges of establishing textile recycling programs, Erin brings up the importance of infrastructure. “Tech accessibility is key. We're really lucky in Bedford; we have curbside pickup for our trash and even compost. We can recycle other things at our curb as well, but the important piece is that it's close by. It's gotta be easy, and textiles can get pretty heavy pretty quickly.”

Education is another challenge, though you might think of it as an opportunity in disguise. Many people don’t know about the Massachusetts textile waste ban so there is an opportunity to teach them about the new laws, and about Planet Aid’s yellow clothing collection bins that make it easy to comply with the statewide ban on dumping textiles.

Future Goals

Erin is a long-term thinker with a 15-year plan for the community and schools in Bedford. It includes government sustainability initiatives for waste sorting in all of the schools, garden clubs with farm-to-table programs, and solar and wind generators to power a microgrid to remove a dependency on fossil fuels.

With such goals in mind, it’s clear sustainable solutions are a group effort. Partners like Planet Aid help facilitate the collection, sorting, and distribution that are necessary to minimize textile waste around the world. 

 

For people looking to donate to textile recycling programs, Planet Aid offers several solutions, such as:
Finding your closest yellow donation bin
Joining Planet Aid’s School Program
Hosting your own yellow bin

Click on one of the links above to start on your own sustainable solutions with Planet Aid.

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