British Columbia

National Thrift Shop Day puts attention on recycled clothing

A one-day art exhibit at the Vancouver Aquarium asks people to "Give a Sh!rt" when it comes to throwing out old clothes.

Over 26 billion pounds of clothing goes to North American landfills each year, says Value Village

A display at the Vancouver Aquarium highlights the need for people to recycle their clothing instead of putting it in landfills. (Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup)

The area outside the Vancouver Aquarium was a lot messier than usual the last two days.

An art exhibit showing dozens of used clothes surrounding an inverted oil bin was installed outside the aquarium on August 16, drawing awareness to the impact discarded clothes have on the environment.

"We're hoping it will be an arresting wake-up call for the general public to 'give a shirt' about the environment," said Tony Shumpert, vice president of of recycling and reuse at Value Village. 

"We want people to realize that the most sustainable pieces of clothing are the ones we already own, and there's simple things we can do to counteract the impact of clothing waste."

Shumpert says more than 700 gallons of water can be used to make one new cotton T-shirt, and that over 26 billion pounds of clothing goes to landfills in North America each year. 

"The biggest reason we're focused on water is that, in terms of textiles, it is the most intensive resource that's used," he said. 

As much as 10 per cent of solid waste produced is textiles, Shumpert said, and of that, about 95 per cent can be reused or recycled.

"It's really a lack of knowledge or education in the ways that people can reuse textiles," he said.

Donating, recycling available

A recent study in Ontario concluded 85 per cent of discarded textiles end up in a landfill site, meaning just 15 per cent are recycled or reused.

Claudia Marsales, a senior waste mange with the City of Markham, Ont., previously told CBC there is a lot of money to be made in textiles — even those that aren't in top shape. 

The Salvation Army in that city, for example, sorts donations into different grades and still makes 20 cents a pound for clothing turned into rags. 

Lower Mainland residents looking to recycle or donate their old clothes can find out where to do so on the Metro Vancouver Recycles website.

An art installation at the Vancouver Aquarium promotes recycling shirts instead of throwing them in the landfill. (Value Village)