A stitch in time: Repairs, recycling and other fixes for fast-fashion waste problems

The average Canadian discards about 31 kilograms of textiles per year but efforts like mending or replacing buttons and zippers can make your clothes last longer.

Average Canadian throws away 31 kg of textiles each year, says U of A researcher

Mira Campbell getting ready to put more clothes out at Blenderz Garment Recyclers in Edmonton. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

Sarah Janzen watches customers in her shop as they pick through tables and racks of pants, shirts and sweaters priced at less than three bucks per pound.

"We started off a year ago in a 2,000-square-foot warehouse with 40 volunteers," says Janzen, owner of Blenderz Garment Recyclers. "The demand for it was so high that we've doubled." 

Her new location, at 5609 Gateway Blvd. in south Edmonton, is more than 5,000 square feet and has 60 to 70 volunteers pitch in every month, sorting and processing garment donations from the public. 
Edmonton shoppers hunt for deals at Blenderz Garment Recyclers in south Edmonton. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

Good items go back for resale to stay in the local economy, Janzen says. The not-so-good ones — like stained T-shirts and single socks — find new life as woven rugs or other upcycled items sold in the shop.

"The not-good clothing goes through a sanitization process and disassembly, and we put them into one of our different products," says Janzen.

She accepts donations as an eco-fee toward processing of things like used sheets and towels.

Blenderz Garment Recyclers

16 days ago
Duration 2:03
Take a tour with owner Sarah Janzen and learn more about what's happening in the new Edmonton location.

You can see more in the Clothing and Textiles Edition of Our Edmonton on Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV and CBC Gem or anytime here

The shop also sells bulk textiles and clothing that can be recycled or upcycled by cottage industries. 

"We're keeping the resources for people to make things here and take care of our waste right here," Janzen says. "So we're not creating the carbon emissions from exporting and ending up in a landfill in another country." 

Janzen says the system produces a little more than two kilograms of garbage each week out of more than 1,300 kilograms of items coming in.
Shopper Elida Knight shows off some of her finds from Blenderz Garment Recyclers in Edmonton. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

A growing aspect of the Blenderz business is classes held on the last Thursday of every month, offering instruction in skills like learning to sew and mend or creating homemade holiday presents. 

"It's amazing to just get over that fear to fix something yourself. There's a sense of self-worth and self-reliance," Janzen says about projects as small as sewing on a button.

That kind of pride is something Rachel McQueen has seen first-hand.

Last month, McQueen, an associate professor in the University of Alberta's human ecology department, joined her colleagues to launch a Clothing Repair Café.

Skilled volunteers assist people mending rips, adding patches or replacing zippers or buttons with a goal of helping them learn how to give a longer life to the clothes that they they love.

"It was so much fun. It was such a great vibe," says McQueen. She has opened registration for the next free public event, which will be held Nov. 19 from 1 to 4 p.m.

Rachel McQueen, an associate professor with the University of Alberta's human ecology department, hosts a monthly Clothing Repair Café on campus. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

The average Canadian discards about 31 kilograms of textiles per year — equivalent to the weight of about 70 soccer balls. McQueen says the act of taking care of your clothes causes people to be less likely to dispose of them. 

A recent textile audit done in Ontario estimated that about two-thirds of textiles found in residential waste could have been reused with a small amount of mending.

Repair, says McQueen, is as important as the other three Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle.

Other tips include considering reselling — or clothing swaps — for unwanted items and renting clothing items for special occasions like weddings and graduations.

At the U of A Clothing Repair Cafés, skilled volunteers assist people to mend rips, add patches or replace zippers and buttons. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)


Adrienne Lamb


Adrienne Lamb is the host and producer of Our Edmonton featured weekly on CBC TV. She served for several years as CBC Radio's national arts reporter in Edmonton. Prior to moving to Alberta in 2001, Adrienne worked at CBC in Ontario and New Brunswick. Adrienne is a graduate of Western University with a degree in English and Anthropology and a Masters in Journalism.