Avon population

Stained t-shirts or ripped jeans? Lake County expands recycling program to 61 collection boxes

From a modest start, a recycling program for clothing and textiles such as blankets and quilts continues to grow with 61 collection boxes located throughout Lake County.

Final numbers are pending, but the Lake County Solid Waste Agency estimates nearly 500,000 pounds of material was thrown in the trash last year.

“I think it’s a number of different factors. It’s been growing steadily,” said Merleanne Rampale, education director for the Gurnee-based agency. “It takes a few years for these programs to develop.”

She launched the program in 2014 at six sites. There are now collection bins in 46 locations, including village halls, fire departments, park districts, schools and senior centers. Some sites, such as Gurnee and Grayslake with three bins each, have multiple collection boxes.

Visit swalco.org for more details, including acceptable and unacceptable items and an interactive map of locations.

Rampale said textiles are the fastest growing category in the US waste stream. About 85% of discarded clothing and textiles end up in landfills.

“I always offer to educate people and instill in them the importance of deferring these materials,” she said. “It’s a pretty easy thing to do.”

Twenty-one garment/textile bins have been added over the past two years, including one Thursday at the Avon Township Center.

“One of our goals at the township will be to provide educational community programs on the importance of recycling,” said Avon Township Supervisor Michele Bauman.

“Many residents, including myself, need more education about recycling and the benefits it will have on our community and our planet,” she added.

Increased awareness of the issue of disposal has contributed to the momentum, according to Rampale. The same goes for the ease of use of the sites and the variety of items accepted, especially when stay-at-home residents cleaned the house during the pandemic, Rampale said.

“We’ll take a single sock. We’ll take a pair of ripped, ripped jeans. We’ll take a T-shirt with a stain on it,” she said.

A rise in fashion cycles spurred by social media has also created a mindset in which people treat clothing more like a disposable product, according to Rampale.

Clothing and textiles in the bins are collected and sorted by Wipeco inc. Items are handled responsibly with 95% reused, repurposed or recycled in a “full-loop” program, Rampale said.

The Lake County Solid Waste Agency collects a small fee per pound from Wipeco and shares it with participating communities.

“Not only does this help on the environmental side, but also for the communities,” Rampale said.

In Lindenhurst, the annual rebate of about $2,000 helps fund programs such as 50/50 tree replacements and rain barrels, village administrator Clay Johnson said.

Lindenhurst is a quirky community of members and one of the most prolific, collecting almost as many garments/textiles by volume as Gurnee, Rampale said.

Johnson said the village publicizes the program in newsletters, social media posts and website updates.

“I believe we have a conscientious population of residents who, because of our proximity to green spaces like forest reserves, understand and appreciate the benefits of a program like this,” Johnson said.