‘It’s our junk, our problem’: Canberra sisters pledge to keep 10,000 socks from landfill

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Two young Canberra sisters collect 10,000 socks that would otherwise go to landfill to reduce their impact on the environment.

Emma and Olivia Harris are still in elementary school, but they’ve made it their mission to encourage better recycling in their community.

Her idea of ​​collecting socks started in lockdown last year, when the family watched a series of documentaries to pass the time – including some about textile recycling.

“It started with Olivia wanting to know [things like] What is landfill? Where does our rubbish end up when the garbage man picks it up?” said mum Cheryl Harris.

“I remember sitting on the couch with Olivia and she was crying because she didn’t realize that things you put in the roadside trash can get buried and buried and buried and we’re running out of space.

Cheryl, Olivia and Emma’s mother, said it was important to her family that the socks weren’t sent abroad for recycling.(Supplied: Cheryl Harris)

Initially, most of the socks in Emma and Olivia’s collection came from charity bins and from people they knew in the community.

But an interview with ABC Radio Canberra last weekend resulted in Ms Harris receiving more than 300 emails from people across the area wanting to donate their socks and other materials to Emma and Olivia’s cause for recycling.

“In the last week, we’ve received 1,352 socks, and that’s just from 10 people, out of 10 donations,” Ms. Harris said.

Ms Harris also has family and friends in Newcastle and Adelaide collecting socks to add to the growing pile of girls and she believes they will surpass their target of 10,000 sooner rather than later.

From weird socks to pillows and pet beds

Once they reach their goal of 10,000, the Harris family will send the socks to Upparel – a Melbourne-based company that turns textile waste into filling for items like pillows and pet beds.

“I thought it was very important that we didn’t collect all these socks and then send them abroad to become someone else’s problem,” Ms. Harris said.

“That’s how I learned [many] Things can be recycled, but we don’t recycle them, and we send things to other countries for them to deal with.

Sacks of textiles to be recycled lie open on a concrete floor.
Melbourne-based textile recycling company Upparel takes unwanted clothing and turns it into useful materials like pillows and pet bed stuffing.(Scope of delivery: Upper)

Michael Elias, the founder and CEO of Upparel Textile Recycling, said stories like Emma and Olivia’s motivate him.

“Waste reduction starts with children and the more education we can provide, the more awareness we can create at such a young age, the brighter the future will be,” he said.

“Children take what they learn and take it home and share it with their parents and the older generation; it is a two-way communication.

A man in a safety vest jumps in the air surrounded by socks.
Upparel founder and CEO Michael Elias said the company would cover the shipping costs once the girls reached 10,000 socks.(Scope of delivery: Upper)

Mr Elias said the key to changing consumer habits is to create awareness – just like Emma and Olivia are doing with their socks.

“Clothing waste is a huge problem, but it’s a problem that we weren’t aware of, so it’s about creating greater awareness,” he said.

“What these girls have done and what they continue to do is move and divert mountains of landfill.

As far as Olivia and Emma are concerned, they’re just happy to be doing something to encourage recycling.

“It makes me very proud that we’re doing this for the community,” said Olivia.

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