We received a wonderful inquiry from a Sudbury resident who wanted to know why there were not more diversion programs in Northern Ontario for textile waste. We thought this was an excellent question, worthy of discussion.
There are many factors that complicate textile waste diversion strategies for Northern Ontario.
Because Ontario is so behind on textile collection, when looking at new programs, it is imperative that we prioritize the areas that generate the most textile waste – highly populated urban areas such as those in Southern Ontario. Once we can effectively manage the bulk of the waste, we will then be in a better position to service the areas that generate less textile waste, such as the northern half of the province.
These are the issues that complicate new developments for textile recycling in Northern Ontario:
The biggest obstacle we face is the population density of Northern Ontario. Although well over 700,000 people live there, which would result in approximately 1900 tractor trailers worth of textile waste per year generated, the population is spread out over a vast area often with remote access requirements that make regular collection logistically and fiscally complicated.
Generally speaking, in a densely populated urban area, 80 used clothing community bins are required in order to fiscally sustain a collection route once things like gas, vehicles, collection yard, donation bins, labour and insurance are factored in.
These bins are usually placed in very close proximity to one another – spread across only a few neighbourhoods. In a densely populated area these bins need to be collected daily, therefore financially supporting the staff and infrastructure required to offer the service.
In rural areas these bins are not as productive, yield quality is much lower than higher income city centres and in some areas are so slow yielding, they only need to be serviced once or twice weekly. Such a low yield requires far more bins and trucks driving a far longer distance in order to collect the quantity required to fiscally sustain the service. Any of our clients that have had collection routes north of Owen Sound have since decided to discontinue the service because they just could not find it fiscally sustainable.
Curb side textile pickup is only fiscally viable when you have a high concentration of households spread out over a very small area. For smaller qualifying communities curb side pickup is feasible when done quarterly. The problem is that because curb side collection for smaller cities only happens quarterly, it cannot support local employment or infrastructure. That means that every time we do a collection, we would have to send staff and trucks to these Northern Ontario communities, do the collection and bring everybody home. Because of health and safety considerations, there literally are not enough hours in a work day to accommodate such an endeavour and the added costs become exorbitant.
In Southern Ontario, the sector experiences a drastic slow down from the middle of January until the end of March because ice, snow and cold weather make travelling to a community bin less pleasant. In northern communities, that heightened cold season lasts much longer-approximately a full fiscal quarter with almost no yield. This alone is probably one of the largest deterrence to entering the sector in Northern Ontario because the amount of litter that is dropped by bins even in the off-season does not change which means this is not an industry that can be run seasonally. Removing bins over the winter season only to replace them in spring is completely cost prohibitive. Therefore, organizations are forced to continue the cost of maintaining the bins even though they are not yielding much clothing, only garbage, which generates a substantial loss.
When Textile Waste Diversion decides to expand into a new area, one of our priorities is choosing a community that can support the program fiscally on a local level; in other words, can we set up enough infrastructure to afford the purchase and maintenance of that infrastructure and labour force locally? If a community is large enough and green enough to support a full local route, it’s an ideal community to expand in.
Every time we choose a new community, we must rent a collection yard, buy a truck, find a mechanic close by to offer regular service, cover local licensing and insurance fees, hire local labour, and rent a trailer to transfer material. It is said that every job in the recycling sector supports 65 indirect jobs!
Rest assured that Textile Waste Diversion is working on a plan for Northern Ontario, and once our pilot project partners in Southern Ontario are secured, Northern Ontario will be our next frontier.