Textile Recycling in Northern Ontario

shutterstock_307846349We 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:

Population Density

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.

Bin Amounts/Proximity

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.

Supply and Demand – The Cycle of Textiles in Canada

shutterstock_297016295When we think of used clothing, we think of our old jeans or t-shirts that either end up at a local charity thrift store, or cut up into rags for local mechanics. It’s hard to imagine used clothing as a globally traded commodity whose sector contributes billions of dollars to the global economy. Industry categories like cream, credential, rag and shred each have their own commodity price that fluctuates daily and those categories are even further subdivided by item type.

The demand and therefore price for each individual type shifts with consumption and disposal patterns of these items around the world and that in turn will indirectly affect the grander commodity price. Jeans would be a perfect example. Only 20 years ago jeans were king on the international trading market – both stylish and useful, there was an endless need for this commodity.

In part, thanks to fast fashion mass production, the commodity market became flooded with jeans and suddenly we had too many to sell and the price begin to drop. Jeans are in such abundance that entire factory processes have been created to use jeans specifically as raw material to recycle into things like insulation and wool. This is a brilliant use, but understand that in order to get to this volume, companies that once thrived on the international trade of jeans have now gone defunct. Thankfully a new industry has emerged because of green technology, that is hopefully absorbing those lost jobs.

It is imperative that Canada begin implementing green technology as commodity prices in the used clothing sector are dropping drastically. This is leading to a potential crisis as more municipalities are becoming committed to zero waste and implementing dynamic collection models to divert even more of this commodity from the waste stream, and rightfully so. This initiative does have the potential of adding further impact to commodity value. Foresight is required to navigate through this rapidly evolving shift in the industry.

Canadians love fast fashion, and unfortunately on the global market our clothes are viewed as poor quality as a result. Although there are some countries that have closed their ports to used clothing all together, there are others that have not, but have imposed restrictions on clothing specifically from North America because of its poor quality and durability.

Before fast fashion, when good quality clothing was being made in Canada, Canadian used clothing garnered top dollar globally. That is now far from the case.

Other unique categories/challenges listed under textiles:

Camouflage coloured clothing, which is very much en trend in the last few years in North America, is actually banned in many countries because they are used by homegrown militant groups in lieu of uniforms. There is a huge black market for camouflage clothing and they garner an exorbitant price. Organizations like TWD give our partners peace of mind, because we work with CCI that sorts out all camouflage, and guarantees that we do not send it to countries that are facing these issues.

Soccer Balls: we can’t get enough! South America loves soccer balls, and we can’t seem to ever have enough to meet their demand!

Single shoes: there are some countries that will take a single shoe, deconstruct it to bare components and then use those components to create brand-new items. This has become such a popular practice that it has created its own commodity category. Single shoes have been traded on the global commodity market for many many years thanks to this entrepreneurial ingenuity in the developing world. Add single shoes as well as paired in any condition to your textile recycling bag when doing a closet purge!

Political factors that affect the stability of a commodity price are shifting export destinations. Ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have made trade impossible. Those regions were one of the only ones that had an interest in buying winter clothing, as most trading partners have little use for warm clothing in such climates. Losing those two regions had a definite impact on the Canadian commodity market. New opportunities in Eastern Europe have helped compensate for this dilemma.

Areas that suffer trade and banking embargoes like Iran also present barriers to the commodity market. It is imperative that companies work with organizations that have experience in international trade able to foresee and develop new opportunities in areas newly developed to compensate for political shifts and tides that affect our trade options overseas. TWD’s partnership with global international used clothing trade leader CCI, with over 30 years leading the industry globally offers that peace of mind.