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'They're a real problem': Yukon buys baling machine for unwanted clothes

Dec 26, 2023Dec 26, 2023

They're baling up cotton in Whitehorse — and also wool, polyester, and spandex.

It's a program aimed at diverting unwanted textiles from Yukon's landfills. A new baling machine helps recyclers pack up mountains of material to ship south.

"We can put a lot more clothing on a truck in this form," said Nick O'Carroll with the Whitehorse Firefighters Charitable Society. His organization has teamed with Raven Recycling on a clothing recycling program.

The baler — which compresses and binds massive piles of disposed clothes into tightly-packed, 500 kilogram bales — was much needed, O'Carroll said. The recycling program is dealing with a lot more clothing than was anticipated.

"We needed a better system. We needed a system that wasn't so taxing on [Raven Recycling] staff," O'Carroll said.

The firefighters' society installed big red bins at Raven Recycling three years ago. At the time, Whitehorse had no thrift store, and the local landfill's "free store" had also been closed.

"We found we became a pressure-release valve," O'Carroll said.

According to John Streicker, Yukon's minister of community services, a lot of reuseable textiles were also ending up at the dump — about 90,000 to 130,000 kilograms of material each year, he said.

"They're a real problem," Streicker said.

"Several secondhand stores and local churches had to stop accepting clothing donations, because of the oversupply. It's really too much."

Money for the new baler came from the territorial government's Community Development Fund. Streicker said it will help divert material from Yukon's landfills.

"I think this is a terrific thing," he said.

The baled-up textiles are sold to buyers in southern Canada, O'Carroll says. Those buyers sort through the material and find ways to re-use it.

"For example, some of the denim will go into insulation. Some of the other clothing will be scrapped up into what's called industrial rags. And then they also go through looking for very usable clothing that they can then put into secondhand clothing stores," O'Carroll said.

He believes the clothing recycling program has also helped Whitehorse's newer volunteer-run thrift store stay in operation.

"We believe that a lot of that has to do with the fact that they didn't get overburdened with waste textile material," he said.