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Feature: Recycling in the pink

Every four weeks for the past nine months, residents in a selection of different areas of Sheffield have been putting out their unwanted clothes in pink bags alongside their other dry recyclables.

The trial started with a run of 6,000 properties last April, but has since doubled the number of households from which it collects. Textile collections were timed to occur on the same day as the city’s existing blue bin collections for paper and cardboard waste — creating a ‘recycling day’ for residents to dispose of their dry recyclables.

Sheffield’s 35-year integrated waste management contract is held by Onyx, which teamed up with local charity Reclaim to run the trial. The charity provides employment and training for people with learning
difficulties and mental health problems who would otherwise have difficulty finding work, so the scheme
is providing social as well as environmental benefits.

Reclaim manager Matthew Ardern says the project is getting more and more successful, with every collection area showing stronger results as time goes on. He puts its increasing success down to more awareness — created through leafleting households and by the influence of neighbours participating in the scheme.

Ardern explains that as more people leave their pink sacks out it seems to make others do the same, and the sight of a street full of pink bags standing on the kerb probably serves as a reminder for others to fill up their own.

Onyx recycling officer Annabel Johnston added that residents are sent reminders through their letterboxes, so they are made aware of their next collection date.

“We’ve been surprised and pleased at how confident the scheme is,” she said.

This sentiment was echoed by Ardern: “I expected a lot of initial participation and then for it to die off. But I’ve been surprised at how constant it has been.”

Johnston mentions that there has been some variation in the amounts of textiles collected, although the figures have not been analysed properly yet. There was a slight dip in December, she says, probably a result of the festive season.

Ardern says he expected it to quieten down at the end of January, but has instead found work as busy as ever.

“It feels like more people are recycling and more people are getting interested in it,” he says.

One reason the trial was started was because a study of household rubbish conducted by Onyx had revealed a high percentage of textiles in bins.

So now it seems that the message you don’t need to dump your old clothes is getting through. And Johnston says there is virtually no contamination at all.

The areas chosen for the trials were picked to cover a variety of geographical and socio-economic neighbourhoods. Ardern explains that the poorer areas do recycle less, though that was expected. In the affluent areas, where there is also more competition from other charities collecting clothes, the participation in the scheme has been remarkably high.

Ardern mentions one area that has participated particularly well in the scheme, although is not the most affluent. It used to be served by a kerbside scheme that stopped some time ago, and it seems that its residents are happy to revert back to their former recycling ways.

Once the trial ends in March, Onyx plans to analyse the

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