While cleaning the wardrobes of the household, we came across ripped pants, stained sweaters and torn socks. Clothes that are considered too worn to be given to friends or to the thrift store. Are these pieces doomed to end up in the black bin? What are the other options? The Press explored the issue.
“If the garment is no longer in good condition, if it cannot be repaired, the options are limited, quite honestly, for consumers”, indicates Sophie Langlois Blouin, vice-president, performance of operations, at Recyc- Quebec. “Currently, we mainly have companies that will work on the reuse of textiles, for example thrift stores,” she continues. However, since these receive large quantities of clothing, they will often favor “items in better condition which will be resold more easily”. Many thrift stores only accept donations that are not damaged or stained. In short, pieces that we would give without embarrassment to friends. Some, however, have less restrictive instructions. It is worth finding out.
In 2019-2020, textile products represented 6% of the materials that ended up in landfills or incineration in Quebec. “That may seem low. On the other hand, what concerns us is that this quantity is on the rise”, indicates Sophie Langlois Blouin, of Recyc-Québec. In 2011, textiles accounted for only 3% of materials eliminated.
Why is it difficult to recycle clothes?
Recycling post-consumer textiles is complex. “We need to sort each item of clothing to know its fiber,” explains Janie-Claude Viens, development officer, ecological transition, at Concertation Montréal.
There are not many outlets for which we will use any type of fiber. For example, when you want stuffing, it takes polyester, because it’s a little more fluffy and that it does not absorb moisture. When you want to make rags, you want cotton.
Janie-Claude Viens, Development Officer, Ecological Transition, at Concertation Montréal
However, the fact that a piece of clothing today can be made of cotton, polyester and spandex at the same time complicates the whole thing. The presence of buttons and zippers is also detrimental to recycling. “There are a lot more manipulations with used clothes than with scraps taken directly from the industry,” notes Janie-Claude Viens. In Quebec, there have already been facilities that defibered textiles, says Sophie Langlois Blouin, of Recyc-Québec. The relocation of certain productions has made this activity less profitable. Today, the lack of defibering expertise and equipment is “a major obstacle to the development of outlets” for unloved fabrics, reads a report prepared for MUTREC, a group that supports the transition from Quebec’s textile industry towards a circular economy.
Upcycle rather than recycle
To prevent unloved clothes from ending up in landfills, some companies rely on upcycling rather than recycling. “Basically, it’s taking something that we treat as waste and transforming it into something with added value,” explains Janie-Claude Viens. Designers who have embarked on this path will recover end of rolls from large companies or use used clothes and unsold pieces in thrift stores. “It’s not easy to meet this type of challenge in the era of online sales, because each model is unique. It’s a really interesting artisanal solution, but which, unfortunately, will not solve the problem on a large scale, ”explains the one who has been interested in the impacts of the fashion industry for years. Among the Quebec companies that upcycle, let’s name Collateral, Les belles bobettes and Kinsu. Others instead recycle post-industrial textile waste.
From leggings to scrunchies
Four tips to reduce your textile waste
How to limit the amount of textile waste that we produce individually? Here are some gestures suggested by the experts to whom The Press talked.
- Reduce at source. “Before buying a piece, it’s worth asking yourself the question: do I really need it? says Sophie Langlois Blouin, of Recyc-Québec.
- Focus on quality. “Sometimes, it is better to pay a little more to buy a product that is of better quality and that we will be able to keep longer,” says the vice-president of Recyc-Québec.
- Plan for wear. “From one pair of pants to another, the wear often happens in the same place,” notes Janie-Claude Viens. There is way upstream […] to see a seamstress to reinforce these places. The holes will then appear much less quickly. »
- Shop at thrift stores. By buying used clothes, you limit your ecological footprint. Be careful, however, not to fall into the trap of overconsumption, warns Janie-Claude Viens. “It costs less, so people tend to buy more. But a garment sleeping in a wardrobe is extremely polluting for the environment, because it’s a lot of unused resources. »