LTT - May 2023 - Diverting Textile Waste

LTT - May 2023 - Diverting Textile Waste


    I’m drafting this article on trash barge day. This morning Waste Manager Mark said he had a truckload of garbage to get together from the depot. When I asked what kind of garbage, his answer was quick and unequivocal. “Clothing”. He estimates that roughly four to six big, black garbage bags of stained, ripped, smelly, moldy, unrepairable and beyond reuse, are sent to the landfill every month. On top of that at least ten banana boxes of excess clothing is taken over to thrift stores on the other side because the Lasqueti Free Store can’t keep up with the volume donated by locals. 

    Textile waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. According to ( the average person buys 60% more clothing items today that they did twelve years ago and they keep that clothing half as long. On average, a person wears a piece of clothing ten times before discarding it, leading to approximately 83.5 million tonnes of waste annually. Textile production has more than doubled since 2020 in response to this trend. Greenhouse gas emissions are now estimated to exceed all international flights and maritime shipping combined.    Massive amounts of water are used to manufacture clothing and the hazardous chemicals needed for production affect both workers and the environment.

    Fast fashion is a global problem. It mass produces poor quality materials, intended for short term use (that pills and loses shape quickly) in factories that don’t pay workers a fair wage and then is shipped world wide and sold cheap so the cycle can seasonal repeat. The majority of these synthetic materials  release micro plastics into the marine environment when laundered and then are thrown into the landfill where they take up space and produce more greenhouse gases. 

    The colossal waste is mind blowing. What is a person to do if they don’t want to support fast fashion? Slow fashion considers the full life cycle of a textile and everyone and everything affected by its production and manufacture; the workers, the environment, the communities where it is produced, to the consumers that buy it and what will happen at the end of life. A growing list of companies are trying to adopt sustainable and ethical practices when it comes to clothing. (Google slow fashion for suggestions).

    Buying second hand is better than buying new (when possible) and picking up clothing at your local Free Store is even easier on your wallet. Used products are less expensive, don’t require new resources, don’t generate more pollution, don’t require energy to manufacture them and they don’t have packaging. All of which is great but it still leaves the problem of textiles that have reached their end of life. 

    The Gabriola Island Recycling Organization (GIRO) has began to address the issue. In 2020 GIRO was struggling to deal with the the amount of clothing donations they received. They didn’t have room to store it, lots of it was not worthy of selling in their Restore and because of Covid, the company that used to take the excess was longer picking it up. In response, GIRO came up with an initiative called Cradle2Cradle (C2C) Threads; a social enterprise intended to reduce the amount of textiles going to the landfill by up-cycling material into a new product line that has longevity and supports a sustainable, circular economy on Gabriola.

    Beginning with the idea, GIRO gathered information through surveys and questionnaires, applied for and raised funds and invited community members to explore potential design ideas for a product line. Functionality, practicality, production characteristics (like ease and time) and marketability were considered. The top three designs were unpaper towels, stuffed applications (like dog beds and cushions) and acoustic sound panels but keen community members came up with lots of ideas.

    Currently GIRO is seeking funding for a maker space with stations and tools for rent as well as room for workshops on rethinking textiles. The space is meant to support designer entrepreneurs and community tailors and sewers as well as an in house repair person to help extend the life of clothing. You can find more information about the good work GIRO is doing at


    I find the idea of locally up-cycling textiles destined for landfill very exciting and inspiring. Maybe some of you do too. Maybe there is a Lasquetian out there right now with an entrepreneurial bent and a design idea which will transform what we consider waste into something useful. I sure hope so!



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