The municipal team beside a donation bin with bags of clothing to donate
DURATION OF PROJECT: 2015-2018

Thanks to the pioneering spirit of the City of Markham, ON, residents can now donate old clothes and other textiles through a program that creates jobs, supports local charities and keeps millions of pounds of textiles out of landfill.

Markham’s textile and clothing reuse and recycling program is a game-changing example of a sustainable initiative that tackles both consumption and climate change. The now-permanent program began in 2015 with a textile recycling pilot project.

In Canada, 85 percent of textiles are thrown away without being reused or recycled. As local governments make gains in diverting other types of waste from landfill, the stigma around the safety and cleanliness of textile donation containers has kept municipalities out of the textile recycling business. But the City of Markham, Canada’s leading municipality in residential waste diversion, was up to the challenge.

The city launched its textile recycling pilot project in collaboration with well-established local charities such as the Salvation Army—amending its licensing bylaw to allow only registered charities to be part of the program.

Map of Ontario featuring Markham

Consultations with residents provided valuable input to designing the most appropriate and cost-effective approach.

To collect the used textiles, the city built attractive, cottage-style smart bins and placed them at city-owned facilities. Each bin is equipped with solar panels to provide lighting for nighttime safety and security, and a sensor to signal when the bin is three-quarters full and ready for pick-up.

The pilot included an extensive campaign to educate residents on the value of diverting clothing and other textiles from landfill. Interest in the project was intense and swift, and the city soon gained additional partners, dramatically increasing its collection capacity. The city had originally aimed to test two bins, but by the end of April 2017, over 80 donation bins had been placed at fire stations, community centres, arenas, commercial developments and multi-residential properties (there are now over 150). Throughout the pilot, the city and its partners collected about 1,360 tonnes of textiles—12 times the original goal of 113.4 tonnes.

Results

28,000 tonnes

of GHGs offset

95.2 million

litres of water conserved

761 tonnes

of chemicals avoided

The amount of textiles diverted from landfill during the pilot offset 28,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, saved 95.2 million litres of water and avoided 761 tonnes of chemicals compared to the production of “virgin” fabrics.

The project is now a popular permanent program that actively supports local employment and social service charities. For example, the Salvation Army has added two full-time and two part-time employees and dedicated one full-time truck to service Markham’s bins. At no cost to the city, Markham’s charitable partners resell or recycle all the textile donations and track data on how much is diverted from landfill. In return, the partners use the proceeds to support their own programs.

Our family uses the Markham textile recycling bins regularly—with growing children and lots of hand-me-downs, we have no shortage of clothes that are too worn out to live a ‘third life.’ It feels good knowing that the material is being kept out of landfills and repurposed for industrial uses or recycled into new products."

Ernesta R., Markham resident

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