How poor working conditions in the textile industry is encouraging use of ‘intelligent’ bins for recycling in the West

Considering all the tremendous work that goes into textile production, even the most simple cotton T-shirt – produced repeatedly by workers in the East in permanent struggle for decent working conditions and better wages – it makes sense to make the best possible use of our clothes. But that is not always the case.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a mere 15 per cent of all textiles in the U.S. were reused or recycled in 2011, equating to about two million tons.

The goBIN’s use Wi-Fi and intelligent sensors to alert the city as to when they’re full.

For example, in San Francisco alone and in accordance with the municipal entities, 39 million tonnes of textiles are deposited in landfills each year.

While San Francisco is only a small part of a larger problem, it is a problem that the city decided to try to minimize through intelligent recyclable bins.

The result was the new Zero Textile Waste Initiative, with the aim of reducing textile waste to zero by 2020.

The initiative was founded in partnership with I:CO, and Goodwill – a company that specializes in the recycling and reusing of textiles – along with other leaders of community and nonprofit organizations,

To achieve this, the city will strategically distribute Goodwill’s so-called ‘goBINs’ designed by Frog, in residential apartment blocks throughout the city.

by focusing on residential apartment blocks, the city can reach a significant percentage of the population and provide a simple and affordable way for them to dispose of old and used clothes. Another benefit is the reduced rate of fire – 40 per cent of all residential fires are in apartments, one of the highest rates in the country.

The “bins” technology enables people who donate to have a deductible tax allowance via a simple QR code. Sensors in the Goodwill bins send alerts about the timing to empty and collect donations. And when the time comes for the collection and emptying operation, a built-in conveyor belt system shortens the process to less than five minutes.

For textile material that makes no sense to donate to second hand stores (for example, damaged clothes with holes) the city is distributing the I:CO/Goodwill bins to retail partners, such as H&M and North Face, and also to public spaces (libraries, schools, universities, etc.). These products are then transformed by the I:CO into other types of products: carpets, insulating material, curtains or new fabric.

It is intended that, with all these options, the task of recycling textiles is not a heavy and expensive task. As described by Leslie Bilbro, the director of donations for  Goodwill, in a press release:

“Convenience is the most important factor for people deciding what to do with the items they no longer need,” said SFGoodwill Director of Donations Leslie Bilbro. “Paradoxically this is why many textiles end up in landfill; historically, it’s just been easier to throw them away. Responding to today’s urban lifestyle, our goBIN will help people do the right thing for the environment and for their fellow residents who need a second chance in life.”

The struggle of the globalized textile

The devastating collapse of a clothing factory in Bangladesh early last year, brought up one of the most important problems of the global supply chain of clothing and textiles. Since the tragedy, the country has increased its minimum wage and tried to improve working conditions in factories.

But there is a much more complex world behind the whole process of manufacturing clothes.  A new series of NPR’s Planet Monkey, analyzes in detail, people, machines, and systems that are behind the most basic clothing item in any wardrobe, the Cotton T-shirt.

Vitor PereiraVitor Pereira has been a journalist for 20 years and as an expert in augmented reality, tourism, mobile apps and Internet of Things he works with municipalities and cities on their ‘smart’ strategies. He is now a consultant and blogger for the Smart Cities Portugal network.


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