When it’s time to clean out your closet, or you have the unenviable job of disposing of someone’s household, one of the most overwhelming aspects is the volume of textiles, clothing, draperies, bedding, etc. that seem to accumulate in every nook and cranny of a dwelling.
Before you load up the pickup and take it to the landfill, think about the alternatives. Textiles are the next frontier in recycling for communities looking to cut the waste being dumped in their landfills.
Quesnel Salvation Army and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Quesnel have been doing their part to keep 100 per cent of their unused donated textiles out of the landfill through various recycling programs.
The recycling movement has been gaining momentum with more and more companies and organizations finding ways to sort and recycle a variety of manufactured products.
Metal, glass, plastic, paper and cardboard, along with household composting, batteries and electronics, cans of paints and used oil all have recycling depots in many communities and it’s up to consumers to source out these opportunities to responsibly dispose of their waste.
Many Canadian cities are investigating or have instituted textile recycling systems to enable their residents to conveniently and responsibly move their textiles on.
In Colchester, Nova Scotia, they launched a program but encountered a basic problem.
Compared to glass or plastics, textiles don’t lend themselves to curb side pickup.
Markham, Ontario is handling this problem with a different approach. Working with the Salvation Army, the city has set up donation bins around the city, some as big as garden sheds. Sensors indicate when the boxes are getting full and all are marked with the city logo, although the Salvation Army are processing everything collected, just as it does with items donated through its own boxes.
Through market research they identified some of the barriers to getting every last textile recycled such as
people thought only high end items should be donated and cheaper items went into the trash.
Local Salvation Army Lieutenant Laura Van Schaick said another barrier is people feel when items are donated to the Salvation Army they should be sold for rock bottom prices, however what they fail to realize is the money raised through the Thrift Store is used entirely for programs and services at the local Salvation Army.
“A Lulu Lemon item of clothing sold for $20 at the Thrift Store could feed a family of four from the food bank,” she said.
Last year the Salvation Army’s recycling warehouse in Prince George, where Quesnel sends some of the textiles not sold in the Thrift Store, processed 680,000 kilograms of textiles, equivalent to more than 1,800 kgs a day. With a staff of just seven people at the warehouse, it’s an amazing feat.
Annually, the Salvation Army generates $250,000 which helps support its social services. But more than just a fundraiser, the warehouse is part of the corps’ commitment to stewardship.
“When it comes to managing the earth, I think stewardship is particularly important because, how long before the next generation starts digging up our landfills?” Prince George Salvation Army Captain Neil Wilkinson said.
“The garbage that we bury – where does it go? It can be recycled. We can only keep burying stuff in the ground for so long before it becomes a very big problem.”
When they receive textiles for recycling, the warehouse sorts by type and grade and then bales in 27,216-kg bundles. Those bundles are tendered to various textile recyclers across North America, who bid on the product. These textile recyclers further sort and refine these bundles into 45-kg bales, which are sent overseas and then can be purchased by locals and private companies who remarket the material in their own communities.
Textile bundles may also be turned into other products, such as rags, certain types of paper, insulation or specialized fibre-based materials used in agriculture, medicine or even diapers.
The warehouse also recycles electronics which are palletized and sent to Encorp, the province’s recycling program and metals which are recycled locally in Prince George.
Back home in Quesnel, the Salvation Army recycles in several ways.
All the unsold paper (books, etc) and glass are recycled.
Electronics are taken to the E-Cycle location in town and textiles are recycled and then transported to other organizations.
They also donate blankets to the SPCA.
“We send some of our textiles to the Salvation Army’s warehouse in Prince George and the balance is re-donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Quesnel who have access to a baler,” Laura said.
“Thus, the unsold textiles that are donated here are able to generate funds for other local charities. There’s a lot of money in textiles. All of it can be recycled. All of it should be donated.”
She added that approximately 90 per cent (some plastics still land in the landfill) of unsold donated merchandise is diverted to further recycling and this has evolved over the last two years when all of our unsold textiles and some other merchandise was dumped in the landfill.
“This is about helping other organizations in our community, our country and around the world,” she said with pride.
Laura added that of course, the first two R’s are Reduce and Reuse, so even before they get to textile recycling, the Thrift Store provides opportunities, for textile production to be reduced as they reuse what is already produced.
She commented that sales at the Thrift Store have a huge impact on those who use the community services offered through the Salvation Army.
“What’s old and boring for me may be new and exciting for another person, or vice versa,” she said.
“The Thrift Store has three main purposes. One is to provide a place where low income families can shop for quality used merchandise with dignity; two is to raise funds to support our local community programs such as the Food Bank and Warrior’s Song Cafe feeding program; and third to be good stewards of the environment by diverting as much old commercial product from the landfill as possible through promoting reuse of items and through recycling paper, glass, electronic and textile products.”