Who cleans up your big, messy pile of used clothes?

On average, Canadians dump seven kilograms of textile waste per person into landfills each year. While textile waste accounts for only five percent of landfill waste, the majority of this is clothing, and 80 per cent of it still wearable. To give an idea of the volumes we are looking at, one researcher explained that if we gathered all the textiles thrown into Canadian landfills over one year, they could be piled into a solid structure as large as the Toronto’s Rogers Centre stadium.

On average, Canadians dump seven kilograms of textile waste per person into landfills each year. While textile waste accounts for only five percent of landfill waste, the majority of this is clothing, and 80 per cent of it still wearable. To give an idea of the volumes we are looking at, one researcher explained that if we gathered all the textiles thrown into Canadian landfills over one year, they could be piled into a solid structure as large as the Toronto’s Rogers Centre stadium.

To give this visual some local reference, we would be looking at a pile of discarded clothing with the same footprint as the block where the Mountain View School is located, and measuring about 96 meters high. For another example: Try to envision a square on the ground the size of the parking lot behind the Post Office (25 x 37 m) with a pile of clothing the height of the longest ski run at Revelstoke Mountain Resort (at 1,731vertical meters). In either case, you would be looking about a pile with a volume of 1.6 million cubic meters – the amount of clothing Canadians throw in the garbage each year.

When we consider what the majority of our clothes are made from these days, the ecological footprint associated with our clothing gets even larger. Consider the inputs that go into producing these common materials:

* Polyester, the most commonly manufactured fiber, is made from petroleum in an energy-intensive process that emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and acid gases into the air. The process also uses a large amount of water for cooling.

* The manufacturing of nylon emits nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with a carbon footprint 310 times that of carbon dioxide.

* Rayon, derived from wood pulp, often relies on clearing old growth forests to make way for water-hungry eucalyptus trees, from which the fiber is sourced.

* Cotton, found in most clothing, is the most pesticide-dependent crop in the world. It takes one-third of a pound of pesticides to make one t-shirt.

Clearly, the environmental footprint of our clothing is substantial. In some larger centres, it is possible to recycle retired textiles into new products like car upholstery and carpeting (almost 75,000 tonnes worth of textile waste are recycled each year). In Revelstoke, however, we don’t have this recycling option.

The option available to us is even better: re-use it! Better because “reuse” falls before “recycle” in the hierarchical model of the three R’s, reduce, re-use, recycle. The three R’s have been popularized to the extent that some people refer to it as the mantra of the green movement, but it is oft forgotten that the order matters. “Reuse,” in this case, is more effective at diverting waste material from landfills than “recycling.”

So, where do we see clothing being re-used in town? While there are numerous examples, Revelstoke’s thrift stores stand out as an incredible re-use it success story. There are two thriving thrift stores in town. The Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Store and the lesser-known Saint Peter’s Anglican Church Goodwill Store are both located downtown on 2nd Street.

The reasons to shop at, and donate to, these thrifts stores are innumerable.

The profits made at these stores are rolled back into the community. The Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Store, for example, donated over $170,000 in profits to charity last year. The next time you are in this store, check out the impressive list posted on the wall of medical equipment purchased over the years for the local hospital. At Saint Peter’s Goodwill Store, volunteers Hanna and Helen shared stories of outfitting numerous persons in need with warm clothes for the winter, whether they had the money or not.

Affordability is of course one of the true highlights of thrift stores. While visiting the Saint Peter’s Goodwill Store, one mother shared her enthusiasm over being able to outfit her daughter for her first year of school with almost-new shoes, boots, warm sweaters, a pair of pants and two notebooks for under $20. She said she wouldn’t have been able to provide her daughter with what she needed for school if it wasn’t for the store.

These stores aren’t just for the indigent, however. Thrift store volunteers say that their customers come from every walk of life. One volunteer explained that “some of our customers are looking for costumes, others just love the treasure hunt. Our stock is changing all the time, so we have people coming back all the time – sometimes a few times a week – to find new things. It’s not just clothes that you can get here though, you could outfit your whole house with the stuff we have here.”

Despite how many Revelstokians take advantage of these resources an incredible surplus of re-useable material accumulates from month to month. This is where Ray Brosseuk and his team of volunteers from the charity Partners for Others come in. Every month they bale hundreds of bags of leftover materials to be sent overseas for those in need. This week they packed a railway container destined for the South Pacific loaded with goods from the Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Store. In this container were 325 bales of clothing (each weighing 45 kg), 2 bikes, 18 pairs of crutches, 48 boxes of housewares, and 1,000 pairs of shoes! Next week they’ll pack another container destined for Swaziland in Southern Africa with the same amount of goods. Last year, Partner for Others sent just over 78,842 kg of clothing from our thrift stores to children in the global south.

These stores provide community members with the opportunity to reduce the amount of new consumer goods purchased. For their substantial role in waste stream reduction, both thrift stores in town receive this next round of Green Business Awards.

***

Hailey Ross writes The Natural Choice on behalf of the North Columbia Environmental Society. The column explores the movers and shakers of Revelstoke who are leading the way to sustainability. Proudly supported by the Columbia Basin Trust.

 

 

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