Imagine this: The ability for you, a busy Philadelphian, to recycle your used clothing and shoes without leaving your home.
If that doesn’t do it for you, we’ll throw in the ability to track the impact of your donations as they’re reused somewhere around the world. Sound like something you could get behind?
Philadelphia has met its social impact soulmate in Community Recycling, a nationwide initiative dedicated to “advancing the awareness and practice of recycling for reuse.” Their secret to success? Making it easy.
In a city where it’s totally normal not to have a car, Community Recycling’s CR Home program eliminates the inconvenience factor from the donation game. By providing free shipping labels and the option to drop donations in the mail, CR Home is the perfect recycling program for Philadelphians who don’t exactly perk up at the idea of schlepping around big bags of clothes on public transportation all afternoon.
In addition to revamping the collection process, Community Recycling fosters engagement between the communities connected by its efforts. That can take the form of recyclers packing notes along with their clothing in collection boxes or rewarding top performing schools by connecting them with students from the countries on the receiving end of their donations.
We spoke to Community Recycling’s Director of Partnerships, Beth Adams, to learn how this recycling experience is what sets the organization apart as one of Philly’s finest sources of social impact.
The Lightning Strike: CR is focused on the recycling of clothes and shoes. What’s your most effective call to action to encourage people to recycle their clothing for reuse rather than allowing it to end up in a landfill?
Beth Adams: In the U.S. we have achieved a level of affluence and consumption that is unparalleled in the world. As such, Americans discard approximately 86 pounds of clothing and related items each year, which is the equivalent of 22 billion pounds annually. We only recycle 15 percent of that amount, which leaves about 10.5 million tons per year in landfills, giving clothing one of the poorest recycling rates of any reusable material. According to the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA), reuse – second only to reduction – enjoys the highest and best environmental and economic value.
A big part of Community Recycling’s strategy is the connection between recycling and community engagement. How do you ensure that those two things work together?
BA: We want to inspire and delight those who will see the purpose and impact of recycling for reuse. We do that by focusing on the fact that people can become connected through reuse. We do that through our SoleMate Notes that allow you to share your story and send a note with the potential for a connection. We allow you to track the destination of your materials and the environmental impact. Our program engages all, from a child to a CEO. Not everyone can give money, or even give an hour to volunteer, but anyone can participate and make a difference by recycling a pair of shoes for reuse. We all want to be a part of a movement and the reuse movement is open to all.
What is Community Recycling’s history and relationship with Philadelphia? Do you have a vision for continuing to move forward with Philly?
BA: Community Recycling has been involved in the reuse movement for almost 15 years in the Greater Philadelphia area. We made the move to shift from the bins you see in your local shopping centers marked ‘clothing & shoes’ and move towards our environmental experience engaging our recyclers with our ShoeBox Recycling, CR Kids & CR Campus programs. We are eager to lead Philadelphia along the path to reuse and support their favorite community programs and nonprofit causes giving back to our city and neighborhoods. We are proud of our efforts to give back to the great people of Philadelphia.
If any Philadelphians reading this have clothing or shoes they want to recycle for reuse with Community Recycling, what should their first steps be, if they’ve never participated before?
BA: We invite you to join us at online and continue the impact we are making. Our partnerships with folks like Back on My Feet Philadelphia are some of our best work. It is the amazing volunteers we work with, from local companies, nonprofits, PTOs, youth groups & religious organizations that make the difference.
By reminding us that we can recycle more than just paper, bottles and cans, Community Recycling both reduces waste and rejects the notion that making a donation can’t be an interactive, community-building experience. This bridge between social impact and social engagement is at the core of a successful organization, not just in Philadelphia, but around the world.