WEST WARWICK — As the town dives into conversations over establishing a program to pick up unwanted textiles right from residents’ homes, one local business plans to go ahead with offering the service, beginning in West Warwick.
“It’s a new way — a more convenient way — of recycling,” Don Mariani, whose company Recycling Associates owns many of the clothing donation bins around West Warwick, said earlier this week of his latest venture.
Mariani sat in his office in Warwick Tuesday with his business partner Melanie Flamand, and the two discussed the major impetus behind founding Curbside Textile Recycling.
“I think the bins have turned into pay phones, where they’re going to be obsolete and go away,” Mariani said. “This is just a lot easier for everybody.”
Mariana co-founded Recycling Associates over a decade ago, installing bins where people could drop their used clothing, which in turn would be shipped to processing centers and sold in bulk to places in need around the globe.
The company, Mariani said, “took off.”
“We had 850 bins on the ground within a year,” he said. “But we see the industry changing.”
Considering the growing popularity of online ordering and delivery services, Mariani said it just makes sense to transition to a home pickup system of collecting textile donations.
“The way life is going right now, everything is from home,” he continued. “I talk to a lot of people that say, ‘you know I have a bag in my trunk, I’ve been driving around for two months with it.’ Now, it’s going to be so easy — you just put it outside your front door.”
Curbside Textile Recycling will provide each household with a bag to stuff with unwanted clothing, shoes and handbags. Bags will be collected from residents’ doorsteps on trash pickup days, and replacement bags will be delivered.
“It’s very simple,” Mariani said of the optional program, which he plans to kick off in West Warwick. Collection bags have already been ordered and should arrive within a couple of weeks, he said.
Bags will be color-coded based on the town — in West Warwick, for example, they’ll be orange and black.
While color coding will make it easier to determine where each bag came from, Flamand added that the company would also like to eventually arrange donation-collecting contests between school districts.
“We want to make it fun for people to [recycle],” she said.
Some 78 percent of the world relies on used clothing, Flamand said, but only around 14 percent of people in the United States actually recycle their clothing, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“So 86 percent of the people just take their clothes and throw them away. That’s adding to landfills,” she said. “This is going to streamline it, make it easier for people to donate.”
Plus, Flamand added, the cost savings to the town could be significant.
In Coventry, where the town has partnered with the Ohio-based company Simple Recycling to collect textiles curbside, the town quickly realized savings in its disposal fees, for example. Coventry also receives monthly payments based on the tonnage collected.
Flamand, who’s from Warwick, added that she hopes Rhode Island towns will choose to partner with Curbside Textile Recycling because it’s a local company.
“We’re established here in the state,” Flamand said of the fledgling company, which plans to offer 12 cents per pound to the towns it contracts with. “We want to do some good here.”
The company also plans to donate a penny to three pre-determined local charities for each pound of textiles collected from that town.
“We want to keep everything local,” Mariani said, adding that his “heart is in West Warwick.”
By offering the pickup service, Mariani anticipates he’ll also be able to get rid of the often abused collection bins that sit in parking lots around town.
“Cities and towns are really getting sick and tired of the bins, residents are getting sick and tired of the bins,” he said. “There’s a way to end all this.”
Mariani’s company currently owns around 100 donation collection bins around Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including eight or nine in West Warwick. The bins have become a magnet for garbage and unwanted furniture and appliances.
The West Warwick Town Council was presented recently with an ordinance to amend the requirements around maintaining donation bins. Under the ordinance, which was tabled during the August meeting when it was presented, the owners of both the bins and the property where they’re located could be fined for overflowing bins.
“And it’s not the bins’ fault,” Mariani said. “It’s the people that abuse the bins. Where it’s the bin company’s fault is when they don’t regularly service the bins.”
Mariani stood before councilors last month and told them he’d actually be in favor of getting rid of the bins and, in their place, establishing a home pickup service.
During last week’s town council meeting, Town Manager Ernie Zmyslinski noted that curbside textile recycling programs have been “well received by the public,” adding that they tend to result in greater recycling rates.
“From the information that’s available to us, it’s a program that’s very well-received from the public,” Zmyslinski said. “It’s optional, and they can just put their items out… it’s a convenience to the residents, and it gets credit for the town for our recycling stream. It’s a win-win.”
Town Council President David Gosselin Jr. said he agrees that the program is a good idea, and added that he’d like to go out to bid to find a company to partner with that will “give the town the most bang for the buck” and that will be reliable.
“The last thing we want to hear is, ‘I’ve had 40 pounds of clothes on my sidewalk for the last three weeks, is somebody going to come pick it up?’” Gosselin said.
Zmyslinski, who named Curbside Textile Recycling and Simple Recycling as examples of companies the town might partner with, suggested the council discuss during a future meeting the possibility of going out to bid.
In the meantime, however, Mariani is going forward with his program.
“I don’t need the town to do this,” Mariani said, noting that there are other companies, like Goodwill, that offer similar donation pickup services.
“I think this is going to be a grand slam,” he continued. “It’s where the future’s going.”