Finding Green Solutions to Textile Waste

shutterstock_120413863Textile Waste Diversion recently participated in a research study of how textile waste is managed in Canada, the USA and Europe.

TWD’s primary focus is to reduce landfill of residential textile waste. Currently, only 15% of textiles are being diverted from landfill despite 95% being fully recyclable. Our objective is to assist municipalities in developing programs to increase the reclamation rate of residential textile waste through curb-side collections, pilot projects, metric studies, service community bins, and special events. We also provide reverse logistic solutions for charities that use textiles as a form of fundraising.

Finding a re-use option for used clothing is always a priority for TWD because it yields the highest environmental and economic benefit. However, there are massive amounts of textiles that are not suitable for re-use due to wear and tear. When we add industrial textile waste to that, we realize that we have a seemingly insurmountable dilemma.

We have been contacted by various municipalities recently, asking if textile shredding is a viable solution to this dilemma. Our answer is a simultaneous yes and no.

The technology to do this exists and it has been used successfully in other parts of the world. Canada is unfortunately not currently positioned to create similar opportunities locally. In the last few years Ontario’s three remaining shred facilities for textiles have gone into receivership, as did the one in Quebec.

The machinery required to properly process textiles is very expensive to import and maintain. This technology is currently not being manufactured locally, and we are dependent on importing the machinery and the engineers required to maintain it. This is quite cost prohibitive, especially when you factor in Ontario’s high hydro and labour costs.

If the end result of the process (shredded fabric) had a market value, it may be worth it. But shred has no value currently in the market, and its value will only decrease as more of this textile waste is made available.

Currently, the shred process has a purpose in that it is used in various upholstery applications – but again, if we are only diverting 15% of textiles from landfill, and that volume is so high that shredded textiles have been rendered valueless, diverting even more textiles will only drive the price further down.

We attempted a few years ago to start a secure shred service, hoping that our clients would be willing to pay for the service to compensate for the cost of providing it. Overwhelmingly, our potential clients indicated they could not spend more money than it costs to dump. Registered charities we reached out to indicated that most municipalities allow them to dump for free. This means that for both the private and nonprofit sectors, dumping makes more fiscal sense than recycling. Unless dumping fees are astronomically increased for industrial and nonprofit sectors, it will be very difficult to make this a fiscally viable endeavour. Textile landfill bans would also be helpful in forcing companies and charities to make an environmental choice.

It’s not all doom and gloom. There is hope! Landfill bans and government infrastructure support in Europe have created a green tech renaissance. These countries have developed machinery and technology that can take this shredded textile waste and turn it into a value-added commodity.

Just like the shredding machines, this technology and equipment is very expensive and would require substantial government support to implement in Canada in a way that will actually impact the market positively. Finding stakeholders that could potentially absorb this material in the quantity in which it is generated is also a solution we need to find. The automotive and farming sector come to mind as opportunities, but it may not be enough.

Closing the loop on textile recycling in Canada is not a one-person operation. It’s going to require a dedicated team of government and private sector stakeholders to bring this to fruition. But with the proper energy and investment, Canada can be a green tech global leader, and TWD is proud to be a part of that plan.

Together we are building a community driven, green future.

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