Why has textile recycling become a major point of discussion within the recycling community?
A waste analysis conducted in Metro Vancouver in 2015 revealed that the average resident tosses about 42 lbs of textile waste annually and textiles make up 5% or 30,000 tonnes of waste at Metro Vancouver disposal facilities. Where is this textile waste coming from? North Americans on average are buying five times as much clothing when compared to 25 years ago. This could be in direct relation to the concept of “fast fashion.” Today’s consumer wants to keep up with the latest trends. This demand has led to the creation of cheap clothing brands that release new items every couple of weeks. With changing trends and high demand, products tend to be of poor quality and manufactured with synthetic materials that are not made to last, making them disposable in nature.
The 3 Pronged Approach to Textile Diversion
Options for textile recycling are quite limited at this time. Most textile recycling programs use a 3 category sorting system;
Rewear - gently used clothing is sold or given away for second hand use
Repurpose - cut into rags and cleaning cloths for industry
Recycle - material is turned into fibres and used as stuffing or insulation
H&M clothing stores have become one of the options for garment recycling. H&M launched a garment collecting initiative across the world in 2013, and since have collected more than 32,000 tonnes of clothing. That is more fabric than is needed to make 100 million t-shirts. Surplus items are donated to The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles & Apparel that looks at new technologies to recycle a greater percentage of clothing fibres into new clothes.
Trans-Continental Textile Recycling Ltd (TCTR)
This Surrey based company has been collecting unwearable clothing through bins set up across the Lower Mainland. Every day their sorting facility recycles nearly 60,000 lbs of textiles and converts 8,000 pounds of unwearable cotton into rags for industry. TCTR recycles a variety of knitted clothing including wool and acrylics. Non-wearable items are sorted into varying grades of quality, a “pulling” process is used to turn the clothing back into thread and the thread is then used to make new clothing and textiles.
During Earth Week 2017, the City of Markham passed the first bylaw in North America, that bans textile waste from being placed into residential garbage. As an alternative, the City will be setting up donation containers in partnership with Diabetes Canada and Salvation Army stores, where residents can take their old and worn out clothing. Purses, belts, single socks, shoes, bedding, towels, and even pillows are also be accepted. Gently used items will be resold throughSalvation Army stores and worn out textiles will go to secondary markets for recycling. By the end of 2017 the City will have over 50 bins set up across the community along with 60 bins placed in multi-family units. They are hoping to divert 1,000 tonnes of textiles from the landfill.
What are the barriers preventing a textile ban in the Lower Mainland?
The Metro Vancouver Zero Waste Committee conducted a study to determine the feasibility of a textile ban, and what opportunities exist for textile recycling in the region. They found that most diversion in the region is in the form of re-use and down-cycling, where the material is made into rags and insulation. At this time, there are no locally available options for recycling textiles at the end of life. Due to the lack of recycling options, they found that a textile ban would not be feasible at this time. A ban may lead to charitable organizations being overrun with unwearable items that would leave them to incur the banned material surcharges when disposing of items at local landfills. Metro Vancouver is currently reviewing programs and policies in other jurisdictions, surveying local reuse markets including donation bins and thrift stores, conducting research into closed loop textile recycling technology, and observing loads delivered to transfer stations to determine which loads would incur a surcharge.
Could Creating a Circular Economy for Textiles be the Solution?
Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC) conducted a study to look at creating a circular economy in the fashion and textile sectors in Vancouver. A circular economy puts a focus on waste prevention through keeping materials infinitely in circulation. This would reduce the amount of textile waste heading to local landfills and reduce the amount of energy used and waste generated during the production process. A circular economy could lead to new local green jobs, create profit streams, and possibly allow companies to be more adaptable with changing overhead costs.
Through their research, VEC devised 10 ways local governments can encourage a shift to a circular economy:
Create EPR program for textiles
Ban textile waste from landfill
Encourage research and development for textile recycling
Facilitate textile collection programs
Encouraging the uptake of recycling infrastructure
Educate the public about textile waste
Implement pilot take back programs
Educate designers about the lifecycle impacts of clothing
Provide financial incentives and green credits for businesses that reduce waste and practice sustainability
Enable local manufacturing and encourage regional material loops
Netherlands based company Mud Jeans uses a circular economy model for their business. Mud offers a leasing program for their jeans. Customers simply pay a membership fee, order the jeans, and when the jeans wear out, customers mail them back to Mud. The customer can order a new pair, while old jeans are either re-sold as a vintage pair or broken down into fibers and recycled into a new pair of jeans.
Learn more about textile recycling at the 43rd annual RCBC Zero Waste Conference held in Whistler from June 21-23, 2017, as industry professionals from the government, non-profit, and business sectors discuss developing a provincial collaboration. Register today!
Canada's Longest Standing Recycling Council