A few months ago, Austin launched a new recycling program. A company called Simple Recycling agreed to pick up people’s unwanted clothing and textiles right from their homes. It began distributing big green bags for residents to fill and put at their curbs, just like trash or recycling.
But since the program launched, the city has faced backlash from other groups that accept clothing donations. Laurie Shanblum, with the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center, told Austin City Council last week that Simple Recycling’s model is cutting into the revenue that many nonprofits depend on.
“My position is that the contract clearly should be canceled,” she said. “The first reason is because the problem you have created is bigger than the problem you set out to solve.”
On Thursday, council members were set to vote on whether to cancel the contract, but ultimately, the vote was postponed. The council instead asked stakeholders, including Simple Recycling, to spend the next six months gathering data on their collections. If groups like the Salvation Army and Goodwill are actually losing revenue, the city council wants to know how it affects the services they offer the community.
District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair, who sponsored the resolution to cancel the contract, said the city is in a tough position.
"This is a new business model, a new program for the city," she said, "and the council members not only are being torn in lots of different directions, but also feel like we might not have the data that we need to make a logical decision that benefits the community as a whole."
Proponents of the program say it supports Austin’s goal of achieving zero waste by 2040.
“Tomorrow, the City of Austin will be collecting textiles at the curb at 191,000 homes one way or the other,” Andrew Dobbs of the Texas Campaign for the Environment said. “We’re either going to be collecting them in the garbage can, or we’re going to have an alternative available, and it is the belief of Simple Recycling that the predominant number of these collections are coming from what would have gone into the landfill otherwise.”
Dobbs said if Simple Recycling’s collections are in fact taking away from local nonprofits, the group would support canceling its contract but, he said, there's no data yet to support that claim.
Once the data is collected, council members will vote on whether to continue the contract. Troxclair said council could take action sooner if needed, for example, if a local nonprofit is in danger of going out of business.