City hopes to raise awareness after study finds 10,000 tonnes of textile waste in dumps
But thanks in part to a local nonprofit organization, the amount of fabric that ends up in Calgary’s landfills is starting to shrink.
Elisa Humphreys is the director of Clothing for a Cause, which sells used clothing and textiles to international recyclers. Her organization applied to the City of Calgary early last summer and won a bid to install textile recycling bins at city landfills.
“It’s really important to us that textile recycling continues to expand,” Humphreys said. “None of it needs to go into the landfill. It’s completely wasteful.”
The textile recycling bins came about following a 2014 waste composition study that found 10,000 tonnes of textile waste in Calgary’s dumps. That weighs nearly as much as the Calgary Tower.
The bins are located at each of the city’s three landfill locations in Spyhill, Shepard and East Calgary. All kinds of fabric are accepted, from clothing, shoes and coats to purses and household linens, and in any condition. Because they’re in the Throw ’N’ Go sections of the landfills, drop-off is free for residential users.
Clothing for a Cause is responsible for managing the bins and collecting the textiles once a week. Using a third-party broker, the organization sells the material to international recyclers.
Those recyclers shred the unwearable material into things like car seat stuffing, furniture padding and insulation. Depending on the type of textile, the fibres can also be re-woven into new fabric. They sell the wearable clothing, which makes up roughly 70 per cent of the total donations, to small retailers in developing countries.
“In the Mombasa Bazaar in Kenya for example, a tailor might buy bales of men’s suits and then re-fit them for his customers,” Humphreys explained. “It gives him low-cost product that he can sell to generate income, and it also gives the people in that country lower-cost clothing to buy.”
“None of it needs to go into the landfill. It’s completely wasteful.” - Elisa Humphreys — Director, Clothing for a Cause
All the proceeds from Clothing for a Cause’s sales go to Haiti Arise Ministries, a Christian charity that does relief work and community building in Haiti. While the recycling bins are still operating at a loss for Clothing for a Cause, Humphreys is encouraged at their future prospects.
“That’s fine,” she said. “It’s only been a few months, and people don’t know that they’re at the Throw ’N’ Goes yet. We’re just glad to have been chosen from that bidding process, and to be helping keep garbage out of the landfills.”
Waste diversion working so far
The textile recycling has been a success. Parnell Legg is the waste diversion specialist with the City of Calgary’s Waste and Recycling Services. He’s been monitoring the program since the bins were installed the week of Aug. 24, 2015. While the pilot program is only halfway through its year-long test phase, Legg is already seeing results: as of January, 11.3 tonnes of clothing and textiles have been diverted from the landfill over five months.
While textile waste doesn’t make much of a dent in Calgary’s overall garbage levels, Legg said the difference is that there’s almost no reason why any textiles should have to end up in the dump when there are so many other options.
“We’re trying to make people more aware that there is a second life for textiles outside of just throwing them in the garbage,” Legg said. “There is great opportunity for either re-use for the gently worn clothing, or recycling it and turning it into new products.”
One Calgarian is looking to contribute to the city’s textile recycling on a smaller scale. Jessica Groenveld works at the Calgary’s Out There Adventure Centre, an outdoor apparel store on Stephen Avenue. She’s in the process of setting up a clothing drop-off box at the store for end-of-life clothes, shoes and outerwear, making recycling more accessible to inner-city Calgarians.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “Some of them aren’t even at end-of-life. Some of them are perfectly good — stuff other people can wear, or that can be recycled — and they’re filling up the landfills.”
“I think part of the problem is that people don’t know they can be recycled, or where they can be recycled,” Groenveld added. “I was hoping to provide an opportunity for that.”
It may be too late to reclaim the 10,000 tonnes of textiles already in the landfills, but people like Jessica Groenveld and organizations like Clothing for a Cause are trying to keep that number from growing in the future.
“I’m definitely going to do it, I just need to figure out the logistics,” Groenveld said of her plan for a clothing drop-off bin. “Even if I have to drive it to the dump myself.”
“In North America especially, we have a hugely wasteful society,” Elisa Humphreys said. “There’s no reason for clothing to be going in the garbage when it can be put to much better use.”
Waste and Recycling Services will re-evaluate the recycling bins one the year-long trial period is complete. It conducts waste composition studies approximately every three years, and will likely be able to determine their overall impact by next year.
Thumbnail photo by Madison Farkas.
- By Madison Farkas