Stamford residents filling pink bags with clothing in curbside pickup program

STAMFORD – Since July, pink bags have dotted the curbs for pickup on recycling day.

Residents fill them with unwanted clothing, drapes bedspreads, blankets and other textiles, plus shoes, sneakers, belts, handbags and similar items, and a company contracted by the city collects them for free.

The city’s recycling chief, Dan Colleluori, started the program to get the materials out of the garbage stream, which saves on hauling costs and diverts it from landfills.

It’s catching on.

In the six weeks between July 15, when the program started, and the end of August, 27,740 pounds of shoes, clothing and other textiles were collected at the curb – almost the same amount as residence brought to the Magee Avenue recycling center in six months, Colleluori said.

“I’m pleased with the program,” he said.

So is Marjorie Hogan. The Glenbrook resident said the pink bags provided a convenient way to clean closets.

“I am getting out my comforters for the winter, and I looked at two duvet covers and I thought, I’ve had these for 15 years. Time to go” Hogan said. “I put them in a pink bag and they took it away and left me a couple more pink bags.”

She doesn’t put clothing in the bags, Hogan said – that goes to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which has a hall on Greyrock Place.

“The Hibernians are opening a thrift shop and asking for donation, so I will bring clothing there,” Hogan said. “But I will put linens out in the pink bags.”

That’s the way it’s supposed to work, Colleluori siad.

“We hope people continue to donate to charities, but more than 80 percent of textiles waste goes in the garbage, so if curbside pickup gets some of it recycled, it’s a good thing,” he said.

The city collects 40,000 tons of trash a year, and 6,000 tons of it is textiles, Colleluori said. If all of those textiles were recycled, the city would save $420,000 a year in garbage hauling costs.

On top of that, the contractor, Simple Recycling of Ohio, pays the city 2 cents a pound, for a total revenue so far of about $550.

The operation depends on electronic tablets equipped with GPS that Simple Recycling installed in eight city recycling trucks. When city drivers are out collecting recyclables from the green bins, they tap a button on the tablet each time they spot a pink bag, which send a GPS coordinates for that address to Simple Recycling.

Drives for Simple Recycling then pick up the bags at the identified addresses.

As with most new programs, this one has kinks, Colleluori said, and hes’s trying to work them out.

One problem can be solved with education.

“Some people think it’s our recycling trucks that pick up the pink bags. They see our trucks in front of their house and it drivers away without the bags, and they call to say it wasn’t collected,” Colleluori said. “But Simple Recycling picks up the bags after we’re gone. They work until 5 p.m. so bags may be picked up until that time.”

The other problem must be solved with money.

It’s that the city trucks fitted with electronic tables don’t always make it to the road, Colleluorie siad.

“A lot of our trucks are odd,” he said. “We’re busting hydraulic lines and having problems every day. It;s a juggle to get them out on their routes.”

When the regular trucks are held back for repairs, other trucks not fitted with electron tablets are sent out.

“Rights not those drivers have no way to ‘ping’ Simple Recycling to let them know where bags are waiting for pickup,” Colleluori said.

Many recycling and garbage trucks in the fleet of 40 should be replaced, he said, but the city recently has spent much of its capital budget on the new Strawberry Hill school, new police headquarters, and the extensive repairs to leaky school buildings that were discovered last year to be infested with mold.

“From what I understand, New York City replaces its trucks every four or five years, and we have trucks that are much older that that,” Colleluori said.

A truck can cost from $270,000 to $320,000, he said. e is applying for state and federal grants that he hopes could fund the purchase of perhaps 10 trucks. But they are reimbursement grants so the city would have to outlay the money first, Colleluori said.

Residents whose oink bags are not picked up should report it to the city’s online citizens’ service site, FIxItStamford. To request pink bags, email Simple Recycling at [email protected] or call them at (866) 835-5068.

Over the summer Simple Recycling sent pink bags and instructions to about 20,000 Stamford households, and Sonny Wilkins, company vice president. The initial response has been good, he said.

“I would expect about 15,000 to 20,000 pounds a month,” Wilkins said, and in August, the first full month of the Stamford program, 14,000 pounds were collected.

“The initial challenge is letting people know about the program,” he said. “We’ll see more when more people know about it.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reported that 16 million tons of textiles are thrown away each year, and 85 percent ends up in landfills.

The pink bags are delivered to a facility Simple Recycling rents on Fairfiled Avenue, where they are weighed then trucked out to be sorted and sold to thrift stoes tha resell items or companies that make rags or convert textiles in insulation, carpet padding and other products.

Simple Recycling operates in 210 cities and towns nationwide, Wilkins said. In Connecticut, it has contracts with three other municipalities – Stratford, Milford and Orange.

Hogan said she feels strongly about recycling.

“I’m 100 percent behind it,” she said. “Now I can do it right in front of my house.”