Canadians dump 500M kilograms of textiles a year. Ontario researchers hope to change that

A new study from researchers at the University of Waterloo and Seneca College hopes to divert tonnes of wasted clothing from landfills back onto people’s bodies.

The University of Waterloo said that Canadians toss away close to 500 million kilograms of fabric items on a yearly basis including such things as clothing, shoes and toys, but researchers hope a grading system will put an end to that.

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“Fashion consumption is at an unparalleled high,” stated professor Olaf Weber, who co-authored the study Textile waste in Ontario, Canada: Opportunities for reuse and recycling.

“Consumers buy, use and dispose of new garments, which end up in the landfill, and less than one per cent of the materials are recycled. This new method is an important step to curbing our waste.”

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The researchers looked at a new method that would grade the clothing from A to F to decide if the garments could be resold, recycled or tossed.

They say that by looking at the clothing this way, more than half of the textiles could be reused while another quarter could be recycled.

The school noted that a pair of ripped and stained jeans might be given a D grade which could see them repaired before they are donated and resold.

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The researchers did admit that getting the garments repaired in Canada might raise prices above market value in Canada but that is not always the case.

“If the repair is made in Canada, we agree, the costs for repair can be more than a new garment – but this is not the rule,” Weber said in an email.

“Likewise, we have seen that if a customer likes a product – they purchase it even if it needs a repair.”

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He said they conducted a test run at Seneca College in Toronto.

“Since our clothes from the waste audits were from the garbage, they were a  bit stinky and sometimes contaminated by whatever was next to them in the garbage bag,” he explained.

“However, we made a test, washed the materials from one of the waste audits, and created a pop-up store at Seneca College with preloved clothes. Our store was only one day, but we sold for over $1,200, and yes, some of the materials were in perfect condition, but others needed a bit of repair.”

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Weber says he would like to see the burgeoning textile recycling industry move to expand in Canada, where it is in its infancy, as it would be good for the economy while also cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions.

“Reducing our waste is a crucial step to addressing climate change,” said Weber. “Avoiding the textile waste assessed in our study could conserve resources and divert a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions — in just one year the equivalent of driving 310,000 cars, plus supplying energy to 218,000 Canadian homes and filling 35,000 Olympic pools of water.”

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