A rise in clothing consumption and production has led to a dramatic increase in textile waste around the world.
In Canada, the average person throws out 81 pounds of textiles annually, while North Americans send 9.5 million tonnes of clothing to the landfill every year — most of which could be reused or recycled, according to statistics compiled by Waste Reduction Week in Canada.
In an effort to curb the problem locally, the City of Brandon has joined a pilot study on textile waste diversion with York University and Diabetes Canada.
"Even though we have great organizations in our community such as MCC Thrift (Shop), Nearly New, and Diabetes Association, there is still an estimated 85 per cent of textiles that end up in our landfill," said Lindsay Hargreaves, the city’s environmental initiatives co-ordinator.
Hargreaves recently presented to city council on the initiative, which is the first national study on the topic. It will aim to identify the "economic, environmental and social impacts of textile diversion for municipalities."
Simon Langer, national manager of government and strategic partnerships with Diabetes Canada, said it is estimated that more than 3.8 million pounds of used textiles are being generated by households in Brandon on a yearly basis.
"This not only represents a significant amount of material being sent to landfills ... but it is a missed opportunity to generate revenue for critical, life-saving diabetes research," Langer said.
Diabetes Canada is one of Canada’s largest health charities, and its social enterprise, the National Diabetes Trust, collects and diverts more than 100 million pounds of textiles from Canadian landfill sites annually.
"We are also very proud that 95 per cent of our total collections are reused or repurposed," he said. "One hundred per cent of net proceeds generated through our textile collection efforts help support our life-saving diabetes research, programs (like our 12 medical supervised camps for kids with type 1 diabetes), education, and advocacy."
As part of the pilot project, Diabetes Canada clothing collection bins will be permitted on city property. The study will work to build awareness and education around textile waste, while also increasing awareness for all charitable textile collectors/
resellers in Brandon.
Hargreaves said there will also be a life cycle analysis dashboard and diversion data provided to the city on a monthly basis by York University. This will include data on greenhouse gas emissions reduced, water saved, amount of textiles collected, etc.
A city textile diversion logo will be created to be posted on the Diabetes Canada bins and will also be provided to the other charitable organizations who support textile diversion.
"This pilot program will provide several benefits including less garbage and an increase in diversion, an environmental commitment, and will build partnership capacity in the community," stated Hargreaves’ report to council. "There are over 160 municipalities across Canada already taking part, including Winnipeg, and the proposed program is supported by the Province of Manitoba and the Association of Manitoba Municipalities."
A new report released by Value Village shows there are promising trends toward decluttering, but North Americans are throwing away far more textiles and home goods than ever before.
"What many do not realize is that when an item is thrown away, it is not only the item itself going to waste, but the natural resources required to create it," states the third annual State of Reuse Report. "This means 700 gallons of water for every T-shirt sent to the landfill, or 1,800 gallons of water for each pair of jeans."
The report also revealed the continued need for consumers to embrace the full cycle of reuse — to not only donate, but also shop for used or upcycled products.
"While there is a consistent base of people (40 per cent) who purchase pre-owned goods at least once every few months, 60 percent of North Americans are shopping thrift once a year or less," states the report.
Value Village commissioned Edelman Intelligence to conduct a survey of 3,001 people age 18 or older from the general population in the U.S. and Canada. The survey was conducted online from March 15-22.
Coun. Kris Desjarlais (Rosser) said the pilot program will be a good way to educate the public. There are places for worn-out or torn clothing, he noted, such as jeans, which can be made into insulation. Other types can be repurposed in a variety of ways.
"It’s just a great way for us to increase our recycling efforts here in Brandon," he said. "And it’s not going to detract from any of the donations that places like Nearly New or MCC would get — in fact, they might end up seeing more because it will be more on our minds."
Mayor Rick Chrest said he is supportive of the project, and is pleased to see it is a pilot program.
"I agree with Coun. Desjarlais. I think with more public education about these textiles, hopefully will precipitate more people donating them to all of the organizations," he said. "But in the event that doesn’t happen … we can modify the program accordingly."
A tentative start date for the program has been set for early August. A campaign will be launched in the coming months, and the public is encouraged to visit brandonenvironment.ca.
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