Erek Hansen of Curtice, Ohio, stands on a pile of jeans. His goal is to send 5,000 pairs to Cotton: From Blue to Green, a group that collects denim to recycle into housing insulation.
Erek Hansen has thousands of pairs of jeans.
No, the 11-year-old is not a fashion fanatic. Erek, who just finished sixth grade at Eisenhower Middle School in Oregon, is collecting jeans for the fourth year in a row to donate to the environmental effort Cotton: From Blue to Green. It collects denim to recycle the material into housing insulation, which is then donated to communities in need, such as those rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.
His activities have attracted the attention of the group Action for Nature, which has given him a 2012 International Young Eco-Hero Award. "The most important thing that Erek has learned is that it only takes one person to make a difference and if you give people a convenient avenue to recycle, many will," spokesman Bery Kay said in a statement.
Erek, who lives in Curtice, Ohio, began his collection drives in 2009 after he read about the initiative in a National Geographic Kids magazine.
"They were trying to set a world record for the largest collection of clothing and they were doing jeans, so I sent in my jeans," he said.
That year, Erek held a jeans drive in his front yard for one weekend. He also partnered with First Solar Inc., which held its own drive and offered to provide shipping for the items. Between the drives, Erek sent in 1,684 pairs of jeans that year, enough to insulate three homes.
In 2010, the Environmental Club of Owens Community College heard of Erek's efforts and decided to assist.
"That second year, which is when Owens started to collaborate with us, that's when we started to really reach out to the community," Erek's mother, Amy Hansen, said.
Hannah Jacobs, vice president of the Environmental Club, said the club decided to help Erek after learning about his effort.
"People tend to throw away their jeans and they go to a landfill or sometimes they'll donate them to Goodwill," she said. "But you can recycle them into a house. ... People are always shocked by what you can do with a pair of jeans."
In the second and third years of his drives, Erek collected 4,154 and 3,920 pairs of jeans, respectively. This year, his goal is to send 5,000 pairs to the group.
"I love recycling, and I like keeping the jeans out of the landfill and seeing them get recycled," Erek said.
"I'd like to study environmental sciences and architecture some day," he said.
The Owens Environmental Club last week contributed 519 denim items toward Erek's goal this year.
Erek's upcoming drives include one at Future Wave, a salon in Oregon, and at Bowling Green State University, where he is to speak about his project to a Camp Millionaire program, a nonresidential camp for seventh graders.
"The basis of the camp is finance, but each year they choose a community-based nonprofit project to teach the children to emulate to become a young entrepreneur," Ms. Hansen said.
The children will be asked to come up with and employ business plans in their communities that will help collect jeans for Erek's drives, Ms. Hansen said.
Erek always begins his jean drives on Earth Day in April and holds the major drives throughout June. Ms. Hansen said they wait to ship the jeans until the end of the year because they usually receive requests from firms and churches that want to contribute to the drive as well.
Erek's corporate shipping sponsor declined to participate this year after three years.
"So we are still seeking shipping sponsors for this year," Ms. Hansen said. "This could be either a cash donation to help us ship the jeans or just a sponsor to ship them for us."
Information on Erek's jean drives is at ecoerek.org.
Staff writer Carl Ryan contributed to this report.
Contact Mel Flanagan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6087.
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