If you’re like me, when you hear the word “recycling,” images of a paper recycling bin or a container of aluminum cans come to mind. However, one organization is hoping that something entirely different will pop into women’s minds — bras. That’s right, The Bra Recyclers wants women across the country to think about recycling their bras, in addition to all the traditional recycling items.
The Bra Recyclers is part of the Bosom Buddy organization, an Arizona-based 501(c)3 organization. 1-800-RECYCLING recently had the chance to interview Elaine Birks-Mitchell, the creative genius behind The Bra Recyclers program.
1-800-RECYCLING: Why bra recycling? What prompted you to start this much-needed program?
EBM: The prompting came from a couple of things. I was talking with a friend who works at a local shelter in the Phoenix area and asking about what the women in the shelters needed but never had enough of. I had bras in mind, but wanted to hear if she was going to mention it… she did not. Then I asked her if they need bras and she said, “Most definitely, we never have enough and we get daily requests. I knew I had about a dozen in my drawer, some with tags on them still, and I knew other women had them also. So, that started my journey. I did contact a couple of other shelters and they all said that they needed bras. Around this same time, there was a special on TV about the history of bras and all of the natural resources used to make bras. That intrigued me, and I began to research the recycling of bras and found out that there was really no one focused on it in the U.S., but in the U.K. I actually contacted a couple organizations to see if they wanted to partner and begin a branch here and they were not interested, so then I decided to start my own bra recycling company with the philosophy that a portion of all of our bras would be donated back to shelters and women's organizations around the country. I believe there is no reason why a woman in a shelter should have to worry about a bra when they are trying to transition back to self-sufficiency. Especially when there are so many sitting in drawers around the country waiting to be recycled. I am giving women the opportunity to give back to women in addition to delaying the unnecessary disposal of a textile that can be used by deserving women in our communities.
1-800-RECYCLING: How many shelters are you actively supporting, and in what communities are these shelters?
EBM: We have currently signed up 14 organizations to provide bras. The organizations contact us when they need bras. Some organizations are definitely more active than others; that is why we are looking to expand our outreach. As we increase our volumes and get the word out, we will be able to support more organizations. We are being careful not to take on too many shelters at once because we want to make sure that we can support their needs. Our goal this year is to support 20 organizations.
1-800-RECYCLING: You have drop-off locations in the metro Phoenix area, Dallas and Sacramento. Is the organization planning to expand its in-person drop-off locations? If so, in what cities might we see future drop-off locations?
EBM: Most definitely, our goal is to expand around the country. As you know, that takes quite a bit of resources, so we are in the process of developing a Bra Ambassador program. It will allow us to expand our outreach in communities around the country by enlisting women who want to give back in some way in their community. We will provide the Bra Ambassadors with the tools they need to support shelters and organizations in their community. We are in the process of finalizing our Bra Ambassador toolkit that will help them conduct bra drives and get the word out in their communities about recycling. I have a fantastic intern, Krysti Macari, a graduate student at Arizona State University, who is helping me develop the program. Krysti has also been instrumental in getting the word out on Twitter and Facebook.
The Bra Recyclers will accept bras in any condition. Those that are in the best condition are donated to shelters and all of the rest are recycled. The fabric from non-wearable bras can be used in additional products and the underwire used in some bras can be recycled.
After hearing about this organization and getting a chance to hear from Elaine herself, it is safe to say the Bra Ambassador toolkit the company is creating will provide a new asset to the recycling world. Help Elaine spread the word about her mission. Ladies, start recycling your bras!
For details on how to donate your bras, please visit the Bra Recyclers website.