Queen Creek happens to be one of the best kept secrets in Arizona. With just 26,000 residents, this small, rural town — a growing Phoenix exurb — is a family place that enjoys exceptional sunshine more than 300 days a year. Leading the way toward a sustainable future, Queen Creek is taking initiative as part of United Fibers’ textile recycling program. In August 2012, almost 7,000 residents participated in a cutting-edge pilot program in which they were asked to recycle materials such as towels, sheets, blankets, apparel, shoes and other textiles right at the curb with their everyday recyclables. The success of this program allowed Queen Creek residents to recycle their worn-out textiles while reducing the volume of waste piling into nearby landfills. According to Queen Creek’s website, “Approximately 12 million tons of textile waste is generated each year in North America.” The accumulation of this waste calculates to approximately 68 pounds per household. Now, Queen Creek residents do not dispose of their textiles in landfills, instead recycling them into postconsumer insulation. The process starts with United Fibers, the recycler that has partnered with the Town of Queen Creek, which issues a special textile recycling bag with a sheet of instructions to all households. The textile bag is to be placed alongside the regular curbside recycling bins on collection day. The recyclables are picked up and brought to United Fibers to be sorted and then transfer to Phoenix Fibers, an affiliate of United Fibers, to be broken down. Then, Bonded Logic uses the fibers to create insolation called Ultra Touch, which is currently used in cars and homes. This product is also sold at stores like Lowe’s and The Home Depot. Ramona Simpson, Environmental Program Supervisor for Queen Creek, describes the recycling process like this: “Imagine a pair jeans, and then after [the recyclers are] done with it, it turns into raw cotton with a tint of blue. It’s really amazing what they do.” While its assistance in the community of Queen Creek is relatively new, United Fibers has been a leading recycler for more than 30 years. Because of this program’s great success, Queen Creek has collected more than 27,000 pounds of material that otherwise would have been landfilled. Textile waste takes up approximately 5% of all landfill space. Although this percentage may sound small, United Fibers is offering the first of what will likely be many textile recycling programs. Textile recycling is virtually unheard of at the curb, but this particular success story introduces a new and exciting way for other communities to change their recycling habits. Simpson remarks, “Queen Creek encourages and successfully diverts textiles from the landfills. We’re giving people more options of what to do with their worn-out textiles.” Queen Creek did, however, encounter a few hiccups during its four-month trial period. United Fibers went back to the drawing board, creating sturdier recycling bags and better outreach to participants. Simpson expects to begin another trial program utilizing these improvements within the next 30 days. “This trial program really taught us something, and now we know how to improve,” Simpson explains. “We hold great hope for the future of this program, eventually expanding to the entire community and even the region. We really learned a lot from this trial and we are doing our part to contribute to the circle of recycling.”
Arizona Town’s Textile Recycling Takes to the Curb
How did a small town become a leader in textile recycling? It gambled on an innovative curbside recycling program.