According to the Council for Textile Recycling (2014), 85% percent of all textiles are going directly into landfills rather than being recycled or reused. This is a huge problem because natural textiles biodegrade in landfills, producing CO2 and methane emissions which contribute to climate change; while synthetic materials do not biodegrade and instead stay forever in landfills.
Solving this problem would require all textiles to be collected and diverted from the waste stream. This is a simple solution in theory, however the processes required to achieve it are complex. It requires the consolidated efforts of numerous stakeholder groups and millions of citizens.
The solution also depends upon changes in social and technological processes. New social developments have increased awareness about the problem and inculcated a desire to solve it, offering an opportunity for change.
However, conflicting interests surrounding textile diversion, coupled with a lack of industry, governmental, and academic perspectives, has contributed to the uncertainty about how to solve the issue of textile waste.
This is why Fashion Takes Action formed and convened The Ontario Textile Diversion Collaborative from 2017-2020, funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation Collective Impact grant. More than 40 stakeholders from across the value chain came together in an effort to minimize the number of textiles going into landfill by increasing the rate of textile diversion, and encouraging the development of a textile recycling industry in Ontario. Our stakeholders included municipalities, academics, brand owners, retailers and industry organizations, NGOs, textile collectors and charities.
We began the work by holding two separate 2 day labs for a total of 4 days in fall 2017. The first 2 days focused on textile waste diversion, and the second 2 days on recycling.
Our convening question was: “How can we reduce the amount of textiles going into landfill while ensuring the material will be efficiently reused, repurposed or recycled?”
The Labs also allowed us to begin to form structure for the various working groups that were needed to achieve our collective desired outcomes. These working groups were governed by a leadership committee that developed campaigns and policy positions based on research, discussions, workshops and experience.
The learning priorities of these working groups was as follows:
We supported the efforts of the Canadian Apparel Federation and Retail Council of Canada on the amendment of the Stuffed Articles Regulation. We recommended that the province of Ontario include textiles in their Environment Plan and define textiles as its own waste category. We also focused on the Federal Duty Drawback, working in collaboration with a legal advisory committee to explore the possibility of reversing this absurd legislation. Our goal was to instead reward retailers for reuse and recycling, rather than landfill or incineration. Read our report here.
Through a collaborative process in consultation with several Ontario municipalities, we developed a standardized waste audit template for them to track, in detail, the textiles showing up in their waste stream. Not only do we need to know the volume of textile waste in landfill, but many other characteristics around the type of textiles (ie clothing vs household textiles vs accessories) as well as the fibre composition (ie cotton, polyester, wool etc). This is information that should be gathered in an audit.
The average person is confused about what to do with their unwanted textiles. Some donate to friends, family or their local charity, but the majority put them in the garbage. We hoped to change this behaviour through our public awareness campaign courtesy of Public Inc, which aimed to help citizens better understand the many forms of diversion, as well as the plain and simple fact that nothing belongs in the trash. In addition to our public awareness campaign, we regularly collaborated with organizations in Halifax, Vancouver, Montreal and London (UK) who are also working to address textile waste. And in April 2019 we brought these groups together at our Textile Diversion & Recycling Symposium at Seneca College, in order to facilitate communication and knowledge exchange.
According to our Theory of Change, if we were successful in our efforts to increase textile diversion rates from 15% to 50%, we also had to consider an alternative to shipping it all to the global south. Working with academics and engineers to develop prototypes, and engaging with various manufacturing sectors (buildings, automotive) through pilot programs, our goal was to demonstrate the business case to develop a local recycling industry. Our initial meeting with all the stakeholders was held as a dinner in January 2019, hosted by the Honourable Lieutenant Governor of Ontario at her private salon in Queen’s Park (see photo below). We thank Her Honour and her team for their incredible support of our initiative. However, this stream of funding was cut soon after and this working group did not make it much further. This is when we turned to Environment & Climate Change Canada to conduct Canada’s Textile Recycling Feasibility Study.