In Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, about 20,000 metric tons of textiles are thrown into local landfills each year. That is 20 million kilograms of clothing, fabric and other textiles that could be re-used, but instead it’s all going straight into the trash. This is a serious and growing issue, not just locally, but all across Canada, and all across the world.
I hate to tell you, but as quilters, we are part of the problem.
It’s not just old clothing and textile waste like old rags that are being tossed. It’s those scraps of fabric that quilters end up with after a project is complete. You know, the ones that you think are too small to do anything else with. Or maybe it’s the larger pieces of ugly fabric that languish in our stash for years until we finally decide they’re not worth keeping any more. We innocently toss them in trash bin, along with all the other garbage that is amassed in our households each and every day, thinking they won’t be useful for anything.
Some quilters are conscious of tossing their scraps and choose to recycle the ugly fabrics and the little scraps (along with thread ends and batting scraps) to make pet beds for local animal shelters, or to stuff teddy bears and dolls. But the majority of quilters likely do little more than toss those bits into their trash bin.
We are not entirely to blame. In most cities across the country, the general population knows very little about where or how to recycle textiles. It’s just not widely promoted. And in smaller communities where recycling facilities are limited or even non-existent, textile recycling is not an option.
In Vancouver, that is changing. There has been a rising interest in reducing the amount of textile waste that ends up in landfills. And numerous companies have realized there is actually some value in textile waste. Finally, quilters in Vancouver have a place to take their unusable fabric scraps!
Our Social Fabric has been in operation in Vancouver since 2009. They accept donations of textiles, fabric and sewing related supplies from the film industry, theatres, manufacturers, estate closures, home sewers and artists. Donations are sorted and then sold back to the community at drastically reduced prices.
Since 1990, Transcontinental Textiles Recycling has been purchasing excess clothing and textiles from thrift stores and other establishments and re-sells to a variety of organizations worldwide. Re-usable clothing is sent to developing countries around the world; cotton and wool textile waste is made into new fabrics; and other mixed material textiles are recycled into stuffing, insulation and soundproofing for furniture, cars and houses, and even for new clothing.
Recently, The Salvation Army Thrift Store have begun accepting textile scraps at their Donor Welcome Centres in over 100 locations in British Columbia. Donated items are sorted to give them the best chance of a second life through retail and recycling. Items that cannot be sold in store are sold to ethically reliable local/domestic recyclers.
What if you don’t live in Vancouver? There are still many facilities across the country that collect and re-use textile waste. H&M – a fashion company with stores located in towns and cities worldwide – was the first major clothing brand to accept bags of used clothing and other textiles (they even accept thread waste) in all their stores around the world. Donated textiles are given a new life as insulation material, carpet underlay, stuffed toys or shoe insoles, among many things. And when you donate your textile waste, you will receive a voucher for a discount on future purchases at H&M stores.
If you want to be a conscientious quilter, contact your nearest recycling centre and find out how you can recycle your fabric scraps. Every little bit helps our environment.
What do you do with your fabric waste? Tell us about your efforts to keep your quilting scraps and waste out of our landfills.