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What really happens to used clothing

Follow the trail of your old t-shirts around the world. Did you know that one of Canada’s top customer for second hand clothes is Kenya? In 2016, Canada exported more than $160 million dollars worth of used textiles globally, $22 million going to Kenya. Most of it, isn’t good enough to be sold. Clothing made by popular brands, some of which have recycling initiatives in many cases end up either in the trash or in piles for bonfires. Right next to the markets where the good clothes are sold, smoke billows into the air from the discarded clothing. Ironic isn’t it, you donate your clothing to be shipped half way across the world, creating mass amounts of pollution in the process.

In a CBC report on recycling clothes, they found that some major retailers like H&M and American Outfitters have in-store bins, as take-back/drop off old clothes programs. These bins suggest reuse and recycling claims, “creating the new”. However, they have no such proof for that claim and in fact H&M’s own sustainability reports acknowledge that of all material used to make its estimated half a billion garments a year, only 0.7% is recycled material.

Most clothing is made of blended fibres, that don’t break down so easily. Recycling cotton and wool strands produces a lesser product because the process weakens and diminishes the quality of material.

About 85% of unwanted textiles in North America end up in land fills – which amounts to more than 11 billion killograms a year! Markham, Ontario banned textiles from its landfills due to so much of it. Markham is one of the only two Canadian municipals to do so, along with Colchester, NS.

Most of us, have at some point dropped our unwanted textiles off at a charity of our choosing. We seek to unclutter our closets, while helping the charity of our choice in the process. Only most donations don’t sell. About half of what is collected makes it onto the shelves and racks, and only half of those will sell! Salvation Army clothing generally have 4 weeks to sell before being replaced by the new wave of donations. The old, well you guessed it – go right into our landfills.

So, if clothes recycling isn’t quite all it’s cracked up to be – how do we empty our closets without adding to the landfills? Better recycling solutions are required. YOU can be part of the conversation and solution. A current option to give your clothes a longer life, is sell them to someone else directly, ensuring an extend life and ultimately, a greener planet.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

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