Giving BC textiles a second life: Return-It Textiles & Salvation Army
Since 2020, Return-It has partnered with Salvation Army to accept old, unused, or unloved clothing and textiles for re-use and recycling through the Return-It Textiles program. The average adult throws away 81 pounds of used textiles each year - in Metro Vancouver, textiles make up about 5% of the region’s municipal solid waste. Return-It launched its textiles program to offer BC residents a convenient option to extend the life of their textiles and ensure they stay out of our landfills.
With 46 locations and counting across BC, the Return-It Textiles program has diverted over 485 tonnes of used textiles from the landfill since 2019. Offering textiles recycling at Return-It depot locations allows British Columbians to drop off old clothes while they’re at the depot recycling other products, and our partnership with Salvation Army means those who drop-off textiles can be confident that their unused clothing, bed sheets, curtains, shoes, and even sleeping bags are being re-used or recycled.
Currently, Return-It Textiles accepts the following items for re-use and recycling:
- Accessories and bags
- Clothing (all types)
- General household textiles (towels, blankets, sheets)
- Shoes and boots
- Sleeping bags
Old, unused, and unloved textiles collected through the Return-It Textiles program are recycled through Salvation Army Thrift Store’s Earth Stewardship initiative. Through this initiative, Salvation Army lessens the impact of textiles on our environment while raising funds to support its programs, services, and emergency relief efforts.
When you recycle your textiles at a Return-It Textiles location, they are collected by Salvation Army to be re-used or recycled. Salvation Army’s production team reviews all items to give them the best chance at a second life through retail and recycling. Items collected through Return-It Textiles may be re-used or recycled in 3 different ways:
1) Re-styled and sold at Salvation Army Thrift Stores
Primary re-use market
Any items deemed saleable will make their way to the sales floor of a local Salvation Army Thrift Store. These items are sold at affordable prices to raise funds for Salvation Army programs, services, and emergency relief efforts. Salvation Army Thrift Stores benefit those in need locally by providing guests with the opportunity to shop for items they could usually not afford.
Textiles that are not sold-in-store are then given to those in need or sorted for recycling through ten Distribution and Recycling Centers (DRCs) nationally.
2) Exported to countries that rely on second-hand clothing
Secondary re-use markets
Any textiles that Salvation Army Thrift Stores are unable to sell or give to those in need are then sent to Canadian Distribution and Recycling Centers (DRCs). The DRCs then sort all textiles received to determine how they will be used next.
Any textiles that are determined to be usable as they are may be exported and sold to secondary re-use markets in other countries. In Western countries, used and pre-owned clothes occupy a niche market, but 70% of the world’s population relies on second market clothing - in many developing nations, second-hand clothing imported from the West is a staple source of clothing.
3) Recycled into new products
After DRCs sort out textiles that can be exported to secondary re-use markets, the textiles that are left – items that are soiled, torn, or otherwise deemed unusable as they are – are then sorted by material type.
Depending on what material textiles are made of, they are then sent on to recycling facilities to be recycled into new products such as industrial rags, insulation material, carpet padding, upholstery stuffing, and more.
Salvation Army Thrift Store estimates that less than 1% of the textiles that go through their sorting process are completely unusable and find their way to a local landfill.
Through this comprehensive re-use and recycling system, the growing Return-It Textiles program – in partnership with Salvation Army – is able to divert a large amount of BC’s used textiles from the landfill. In their 2019-2020 fiscal year, Salvation Army Thrift Store diverted more than 86 million pounds of textiles from Canadian landfills. We look forward to another successful year of re-using and recycling textiles in British Columbia.