‘It’s our rubbish, our problem’: Canberra sisters commit to saving 10,000 socks from landfill

Two young Canberra sisters are collecting 10,000 socks that would otherwise go to landfill in an attempt to reduce their impact on the environment.

Emma and Olivia Harris are still in primary school, but they are on a mission to encourage better recycling within their community.

Their idea to collect socks started in lockdown last year, when the family watched a number 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 actually go when the bin man picks it up ?, “mum Cheryl Harris said.

“I remember sitting on the couch with Olivia and she was crying because she did not realize that when you put things in the kerbside bin, it gets buried and buried and buried, and we’re going to run out of room.

Two dark haired young girls sit on a large pile of socks.
Olivia and Emma’s mother Cheryl said it was important to their family that the socks not be sent offshore to be recycled.(Supplied: Cheryl Harris)

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

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

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

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

From odd socks to pillows and pet beds

Once they reach their 10,000 target, the Harris family will send the socks to Upparel – a Melbourne-based company who turn textile waste into stuffing for items such as pillows and pet beds.

“I thought it was very important that we were not collecting all these socks to then have them sent offshore to become someone else’s problem,” Ms Harris said.

“I’ve learned that so [many] things can be recycled but we do not recycle them, and we send things to other countries so they can deal with it.

Bags of textiles to be recycled sit open on a concrete floor.
Upparel textile recycling company in Melbourne takes unwanted clothes and turns them into useful materials like pillow and pet bed stuffing.(Supplied: Upparel)

Michael Elias, the founder and CEO of Upparel textile recycling, said stories like Emma and Olivia’s are what keeps him motivated.

“Reducing waste starts with children, and the more education that we can provide, the greater awareness that we can create at such a young age, the better the future is going to be,” he said.

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

A man in a high-vis vest jumps into the air surrounded by socks.
Upparel Founder and CEO Michael Elias said the company would cover the shipping costs once the girls reach 10,000 socks.(Supplied: Upparel)

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

“Textile waste is an enormous problem, but it’s a problem we haven’t been conscious of, so it’s about creating greater awareness,” he said.

“What those 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 pleased to be doing something to help encourage recycling.

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

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