Cross Country Checkup

How 3 Canadians are finding a second life for everything from socks to toasters

From repair cafés to recycling drives, callers to Cross Country Checkup explained how they're diverting waste from landfills.

From repair cafés to recycling drives, these folks are diverting waste from landfills

Volunteers at Maple Ridge, B.C, repair cafés teach residents how to fix everything from a pair of pants to a musical instrument. (Joanne Soltesz)

When it comes to recycling, a patchwork of different rules between provinces and municipalities can be frustrating to many — and that attitude sends plenty of goods to the landfill.

To mark Earth Day, Cross Country Checkup asked Canadians for their ideas on how to make recycling a bit easier.

These three callers told host Duncan McCue how they're tackling waste in their neighbourhoods.


In an age where most goods seem disposable, Leanne Koehn in Maple Ridge, B.C., wants to give everything from socks to musical instruments a second life.

Koehn, who works with the Ridge Meadows Recycling Society, has lead repair cafés in the city since last March. Residents can swing by with a broken toaster, for example, and learn how to fix it with a volunteer.

While the province offers programs to recycle electronics, Koehn says repairing them is preferable.

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"It's focusing on the reduce and reuse part before recycling because recycling is an end-of-the-life thing to do," she told Checkup.

Maple Ridge MP Dan Ruimy, left, and Leanne Koehn, right, at a repair café launch event in March 2018. The group held eight cafés in 2018 and three so far in 2019. (Submitted by Leanne Koehn)

The Maple Ridge repair café is one of over 1,500 worldwide, according to the Netherlands-based parent organization. In their set of house rules, people who bring items in for repairs agree that the café isn't liable.

Aside from diverting fixable items from the landfill, Koehn says the cafés are a great community-building tool. Often, the items brought in come with remarkable stories.

"One gentleman brought in a tie," she recalled. "We found after that it had been given to him by his sister days before she passed away."

Wanted: Used electronics

For the past two years, Alan Schneider has organized an Earth Day electronics recycling drive in Lethbridge, Alta. He has hosted three others throughout the year.

Though Alberta offers a deposit-based electronics recycling program, many common devices — smartphones in particular — are ineligible.

"For example, every [piece of] stereo equipment that we have, there's no eligible deposit for it," the Ecycle Drive founder said, adding that much of it ends up in the landfill.

"I make more taking my cans to the local bottle depot than I do taking my stereo anywhere."

The Ecycle Drive is collecting all types of electronics in Lethbridge, Alta., to be recycled. The group has four drop-off locations throughout the city. (Submitted by Alan Schneider)

By partnering with local businesses, Schneider estimates he's collected over 120,000 pounds of e-waste since he started.

The items that he collects through his recycling drives are sold to and recycled by private companies.

Slowing fashion

Cheap, disposable goods — from paper coffee cups to clothes — are common in shops across Canada.

Increasingly, fashion retailers are offering what has become known as "fast fashion" — affordable, but lower quality pieces of clothing.

Ten years ago, "you would buy something and have it in your closet for a long time," explained Meredith Jones, a fashion designer and professor at Fanshawe College in London, Ont.

"Now, because we don't value the materials or labour that go into making the clothing, we throw them out." Because these garments are made of polyester or other plastic derivatives, they are particularly damaging as they leach into the earth.

The Poorly Made Shirt Workers project is teaching newcomer immigrants to turn old garments into new outfits. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The fast fashion industry's impact isn't only environmental, but also social. "We don't think of the anonymous labour of apparel workers overseas," Jones said.

That's why Jones and her colleague Jennifer Wright launched the Poorly Made Shirt Workers project in collaboration with Goodwill Industries.

The group offers paid internships to teach textile workers — many of whom are immigrant women — to deconstruct unsellable garments and remanufacture them into new garments or insulation.

Written by Jason Vermes and Mary Newman, with files from Nida Zafar