Nova Scotia

Why charities want your old, stained and ripped clothes

Even if the old clothes you drop into a charity donation bin in Halifax can't be resold, they will likely be recycled.

Even if the old clothes you donate can't be resold, they will likely be recycled

What happens when you put a holey sock into a charity donation bin? (CBC News)

Just because your old socks, stained shirts and frayed towels are no longer fit for the closet, it doesn't mean they belong in the trash.

The latest audit of Halifax's Otter Lake landfill shows that textiles make up eight per cent of the materials in the dump.

"There's definitely room for improvement," Matt Keliher, the city's manager of solid waste, told CBC's Information Morning.

  Keliher said residents should be putting old clothing, linens and shoes into charity donation boxes, even if they're unlikely to be worn or used again. 

Companies like Value Village pay charities for all textiles they bring to the store for processing, even if the clothes are damaged and could never be worn. (CBC News)

Curbside pickup a possibility

Not only is recycling textiles the environmentally friendly thing to do, Keliher said, it would also save taxpayers money.

It's almost three times more expensive to put something in the landfill than it is to recycle it, he said.

Keliher said he's keeping an eye on Colchester County — which started picking up textiles at the curb for recycling in May 2016 — to see how well that program is working.

Halifax's recycling plant is at capacity, he said, but plans are in the works for an expansion to allow for more recycling — possibly textile recycling — within the next two years.

In the meantime, Keliher said members of the Association for Textile Recycling in Nova Scotia (AFTER) handles the recycling of items placed in donation bins around the municipality.

Ella Mazerolle helps people unload their donations at Value Village in Bayers Lake Business Park. (CBC News)

What happens when you put a holey sock into a donation bin?

Reg Chitty, manager of the Value Village thrift store in Bayers Lake business park in Halifax, said his company pays charities for all textiles they bring to the store for processing, even if the clothes are damaged and could never be worn.

Only 25 per cent of the donated materials ever make it to the sales floor, he said. The rest is sent away to be resold or recycled.

It takes effort to go out of your way to donate textiles instead of throwing them in the trash, Value Village store manager Reg Chitty says, but it's worth it. (CBC News)
Only 25 per cent of the materials donated to Value Village ever make it to the sales floor. The rest are recycled. (CBC News)

"Your sock with a hole in it," said Chitty, "might become insulation for a car door, or it might become a piece of matting, or it might become underlay."

Many items sent overseas

Items of clothing that are only slightly damaged, or not appropriate for resale at Value Village, are baled and sent overseas to be sold in countries as far away as Ghana, India or Bolivia.

Those items would likely be "sold in an open-air market over there by people who want to be entrepreneurs," Chitty said. 

"It gives them an opportunity to raise money for their family because there's somebody, somewhere, that may want to buy that," he said.

Many of the donations are sent overseas for resale in countries like Ghana, India or Bolivia. (CBC News)

Not corny to care

Value Village is a for-profit thrift store, Chitty said, so he needs donated materials in order to have products to sell, but he said he has other reasons for wanting to encourage people not to throw their textiles in the trash.

"I have four kids and 12 grandkids and I want a world that they can live in and not have to worry about global warming," Chitty said.

"I know that sounds corny ... but I really care about the environment."

Jason Mahaffey puts rejected textiles, ones that won't make it onto the retail floor at Value Village, into the baler. (CBC News)

With files from the CBC's Information Morning