Residents demand better used clothes recycling (Slovakia)

YRE Competition 2020

In Spišská Nová Ves, residents can recycle used clothes through collection containers. However, these containers are often targets of looting and vandalism. The city is dealing with this problem by reducing the number of containers. Residents are still looking for ways to give unwanted clothing a second chance.

Have you ever wondered about the long and difficult path your clothes underwent until they arrived in your closet? From planting cotton to transporting the clothes to the store, it is months of work, huge amounts of water and energy, and thousands of miles traveled. Nevertheless, 5.8 million tonnes of clothing are thrown away in the European Union every year. Of this huge amount, only a fraction is recycled, and the rest goes to the landfill. There are many ways to recycle "old" textiles. Donate clothes to friends, charity, or an orphanage, or make new products out of them, such as a bag or toy for a dog. Special collection containers for clothing are available to those who do not have anyone to donate their clothes to.

(Un)successful placement of collection containers

Early 2012, special containers for clothing were placed in the town of Spišská Nová Ves. A total of almost 30 collection containers were placed throughout the city. The containers are managed by the local branch of the Polish company Pphu wtórpol, which supplies used clothing stores, exports some clothes to Africa and Asia, and processes the rest into various products. As early as 2014, however, the first complications and complaints associated with these collection containers appeared in Spišská Nová Ves. "The worst part is that what they don't like is thrown aside. They make a mess around the containers," wrote a resident on the Link website for the mayor.

Ing. Juraj Sad, PhD ., the then head of the municipal service department, said, "The city warned the operator about the repeated looting of clothing. As a result bars were welded onto the containers to restrict access." The situation recently culminated in the removal of several containers. Ing. Slavomír Krieger from the municipal service department said, “Containers were removed from some places. They were withdrawn by the city due to vandalism or at the request of citizens.” He also said that the city does not plan to return the containers, despite the fact that no new cases of vandalism or looting of containers have been officially recorded in the last 6 months.

Citizens versus the city

A survey of the city's residents by 16-year-old student Ľudmila confirmed that they are interested in moving their clothes along, but they do not like looting. Of the 400 inhabitants that took part in the survey, 41% stated that they use collection containers for recycling clothing. The amount of clothing collected per year also corresponds to the high rate of use. In 2019, it was 78.13 tonnes. The containers are emptied approximately eight times a year. One very startling finding was that three-quarters of the residents surveyed had recently witnessed looting and damage to a container or noticed scattered clothing around the collection bins.

The city is not currently considering improving the clothing collection service, such as changing companies, securing containers better, or placing containers in a collection yard. Ing. Juraj Sad explains, "The city does not plan to expand the number of containers. The existing company is now probably the only somewhat functional clothing collection company in eastern Slovakia. "

A second chance for clothes

Of course, Spišská Nová Ves is not the only town in Slovakia in which collection containers for clothing are not working out well. What could inspire city council? In Trenčín, the so-called “social wardrobe”, located in the city’s economy building, has been operating since 2013. The “social wardrobe” is managed by a group of volunteers. Donors can bring clothes, shoes, toys as well as household equipment and furniture. These donations can be picked up every Wednesday by socially disadvantaged residents.

Improvement of the used clothing collection service in Spišská Nová Ves is unlikely to happen in the near future. However, the residents’ willingness to donate clothes is great: 90% of those approached would be interested in donating their used clothes. Some proposed their own initiatives at the end of the questionnaire.

I would suggest organizing a collection of clothes on a regular basis. People would always bring their used clothes in bags on a specific date to a designated place. Usable pieces could be donated to Spišská Charity or to an orphanage, and the remaining blankets and sheets could go to the animal shelter for dogs and cats ", suggested an anonymous survey participant. Another inhabitant of the city wrote, “Young people like to change wardrobes. They wear one piece of clothing only a few times. Organizing a piece-by-piece clothing exchange would certainly please many. "

One thing is certain. The residents of Spišská Nová Ves want to recycle their old clothes, but the city has not yet offered them an official alternative to collection containers, and according to the staff at the municipal office, it is not planning to make any changes. However, if the city decides to respond to citizens' suggestions and the importance of this issue, it will receive a positive and very active response.

Bad look, poor function

Unfortunately, this mess around the collection container, after it’s been looted, is not an exception in housing estates.

Unfortunately, this mess around the collection container, after it’s been looted, is not an exception in housing estates.

An invitation to loot

Overflowing used clothes containers in Spišská Nová Ves are often subject to looting.

Overflowing used clothes containers in Spišská Nová Ves are often subject to looting.

Good example from Trenčín

The social wardrobe with its founder - otília divilková. Photo credit: Erik Stopka

The social wardrobe with its founder - otília divilková. Photo credit: Erik Stopka

Authors: Ľudmila Slivová and Timea Dimitrovová