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Feature: Textiles - steps to sustainability

Celebrating 20 years in the business this year, textile reclamation and recycling company Lawrence M Barry & Co (LMB) has certainly come a long way from its origins in the rag and bone trade to becoming one of the largest providers and collectors of textile and shoe bring banks throughout London and Essex.
Based in Tower Hamlets and employing 180 members of staff, the group comprises of three companies all working in textiles reclamation and recycling: Britannia Plant and Engineering, which designs, manufactures and refurbishes recycling banks and containers; the Britannia Wiper Company, manufacturing and distributing industrial wipers and janitorial supplies and LMB, which is contracted to 30 local authorities and waste management companies to collect and sort over 200 tonnes of clothes, shoes and textiles a week, 40% of which is exported to provide clothing and employment for developing countries.
Then a couple of years ago Lawrence Barry came up with the idea of Shoe Friends. Increasingly concerned by the amount of single shoes going to waste, Barry decided that a public awareness campaign should be created. The rationale being that if members of the public were committed enough to recycle their shoes then they would want them to be reused and not end up in landfill. If LMB could educate people to pair their shoes before putting them into a textile or shoe recycling bank it could significantly reduce the amount of pairs becoming separated and therefore going to waste.
"It is a myth that shoes can be recycled," says Michelle Barry, Lawrence's daughter and group marketing manager and recycling coordinator for the LMB Group. "They can be shredded but otherwise must be reused, so we decided to go out to schools and start collecting shoes."
Waste Watch estimates that two million pairs of shoes are thrown away each week in the UK, and an average of 180 million pairs of shoes are sitting in people's wardrobes that will never be worn again.
"LMB decided to develop an awareness campaign for schools that would not only prevent waste but provide an educational programme with fund raising opportunities," says Barry. "By taking Shoe Friends into schools LMB could target a much wider audience by proving information for children to take home."
With existing strong relationships with local authorities, LMB sought the advice of recycling officers and slowly began to roll the scheme out to schools within the M25 and Essex. Barry takes an assembly to discuss the importance of recycling and reuse, and also holds workshops, making rubbish eating sockmonsters with Key Stage 1 and designing t-shirts with the theme of preserving green spaces - particularly pertinent with inner city schools - with Key Stage 2.
Each school receives a customised shoe collection bin and is asked to collect and pair shoes. LMB pays schools £5 a sack (each sack holds 25 kg) and then they can spend the money on charity projects, more in-school recycling such as composting, or on playground equipment.
Having run for just over one year Shoe Friends is now working with around 200 schools in 10 local authorities and will be rolling out in Barnet in April and May. The project has not only meant that LMB has had the opportunity to get involved with more community and charitable events but has also developed a new educational programme.
LMB's educational efforts have paid off. Not only was Shoe Friends a finalist in last year's National Recycling Awards, but Barry was nominated to appear as Miss February in the Mayor of London Recycling H

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