Ontario Goodwill Industries Cleans Up Fast Fashion

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Millions of pounds of textiles from across Southwestern Ontario are being recycled in innovative ways, thanks to Goodwill Industries, Ontario Great Lakes.

The region’s Goodwill retail stores collectively sell close to 35.5 million pounds of donated goods annually, but inevitably there are some items that are unsellable because they are too damaged or worn out, or hung on the sales racks too long. Under current practice, which is changing with innovation, unsold textiles are baled and sent to recyclers for uses that often take them far from the local community. 

Hasan Habash, Vice President Innovation and Enterprise Optimization, is Goodwill Industries’, Ontario Great Lakes point person for four different initiatives that deal with the glut of textiles generated by fast fashion and passed on to Goodwill, giving new life and ensuring castoffs are used locally.  

Under the brand WORTH, end-of-life textiles are being remanufactured and upcycled. The resulting ‘new’ clothing, accessories, and home décor are sold online (seetheworth.com) and, through a WORTH on Tour initiative, at weekend markets and vintage shops across the region. As well as breathing new life into old pieces of clothing, WORTH is designed to create local employment and skills training opportunities. The WORTH website also educates consumers about the impact of fast fashion on the environment and the unethical work practices that garment workers – primarily women and children – often experience in countries around the world.  “We want to raise awareness that the textile industry is broken, fraught with low wages and unfair labor practices,” says Habash.

Some of the textiles that can’t be repurposed are shredded to produce what’s called shoddy, a fiber product that is widely used for car linings, insulation, upholstered items, and stuffing for mattresses and pillows. Until July 2019, only new material could be used as stuffing, but Canadian legislation changed to allow the inclusion of used and recycled fiber. Through a current research project, some Goodwill shoddy will be used as stuffing, and some will be manufactured for re-use as thermal and acoustic insulation in the auto industry. 

Not all fabric is suitable for shoddy, and Goodwill is involved in research to create biochar that includes textiles as one ingredient. Biochar is carbon-rich and often used for soil rejuvenation, but it has multiple uses and Habash is excited about the research that is being done to explore different end-use options, which might include food packaging or waste water treatment, among other possibilities. 

Goodwill Industries, Ontario Great Lakes is also planning to launch pilot projects with major retail chains, turning the retailers’ staff uniforms and unsellable clothing into recycled felt. The felt will be used to produce shopping bags to replace single-use plastic bags and other consumer items, which will then be sold through the retail chain’s stores. “The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, and the environmental damage is increasing as the industry grows,” Habash says. “Our vision is to fuel a sustainable, ethical, and environmentally conscious industry.”  

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Kym Wolfe
Kym Wolfe
Kym Wolfe is a freelance writer, adult educator, and speaker based in London, Ontario. Her articles have been published in more than two dozen magazines and newspapers, and she is the author of four books. kymwolfe.com.

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