How San Francisco Outsmarted the Hassle of Donating Old Clothes

Over the next year, the City by the Bay will place hi-tech textile recycling bins in 100 apartment buildings and condominiums.

(Photo: Courtesy of Frog)

Feb 7, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristine Wong is a regular contributor to TakePart and a multimedia journalist who reports on energy, the environment, sustainable business, and food.

While many U.S. cities are still without composting programs, San Francisco has moved on to worrying about your old shirt.

Americans send 70 pounds of textile waste to landfills every year, but a new program in San Francisco marrying technology and convenience is hoping to get residents to remove their worn-out socks, shoes, and sheets from the garbage can and recycle them instead.

Thanks to a partnership between San Francisco Goodwill, a local design firm, and a property manager trade group, the city will place hi-tech recycle bins in 100 apartment buildings and condominiums over the next year, with the goal of outfitting all city high-rises by 2019.

It’s part of an effort to meet the city’s goal of achieving zero waste by 2020, an ambitious undertaking that has already resulted in an 80 percent landfill diversion rate, the highest of any city in North America.

Built locally from recycled materials, each goBIN receptacle is equipped with sensors that notify Goodwill when it’s reached capacity. Donors can immediately access an online tax form by using their smartphone to scan a QR code on the bin.

The intent is to provide a “seamless and simplified experience” for donors and property managers, said Peter Michaelian, the creative head of Frog Design, the firm that designed the goBIN in partnership with San Francisco Goodwill.

Donations will be separated into streams that maximize their reuse, according to San Francisco Department of the Environment spokesperson Guillermo Rodriguez.

“We’re looking at the highest, best use of textiles. Some of it will go back into the resale market, some will go into other textile products, and some will be broken down back into the fibers and put into products like insulation,” he told Fast Company.

Residents such as Linda Corso, the manager of an apartment building in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood, couldn’t be happier with the eco-friendly receptacles.

“I used to keep clothes left behind by departing residents in a storeroom until I had time to take them to Goodwill myself,” she said. “Having the Goodwill bin on-site will make life easier both for my residents and for me.”