A review of a Metro Vancouver campaign aimed at reducing the amount of clothing in landfills shows it is reaching residents, but dropping off old and damaged clothing at a recycling depot — the easiest way to reduce clothing waste in landfills — will be more difficult starting June 30, when dozens of sites will stop accepting the materials.
The review of "Think Thrice About Your Clothes" comes following the announcement that 55 Return-It recycling depots would cease a program accepting discarded clothing and textiles after three years, on June 30.
Non-profit Encorp Pacific, which runs Return-It centres, said it collected 478,900 kilograms of textiles in 2021 alone.
The "Think Thrice" campaign began in 2018 and features social media posts, livestreams and advertising on the sides of buses to encourage residents to change their clothing consumption habits, use items longer, repair them and avoid tossing them into the garbage.
Textiles such as clothing, including ripped and damaged items, is a growing stream of waste due to changing fashion trend cycles and low prices, according to the regional Metro Vancouver government.
"Losing one recycling area won't change what we're doing," said Jack Froese, chair of Metro Vancouver's National Zero Waste Council and mayor of the Township of Langley. "We're still trying to change behaviour."
Around 20,000 tonnes of clothing waste — the equivalent of 44 t-shirts per person per year — is disposed annually in Metro Vancouver, despite local options to swap, sell, or donate, said the recent report.
The review of the 2022 campaign, which ran from Feb. 28 to May 8, included a survey which found that 55 per cent of residents who saw or heard it say they are more likely to donate their unwanted clothing, 48 per cent are more likely to buy clothing that lasts longer, and 38 per cent are more likely to repair clothing, while 35 per cent are more likely to buy less clothing.
Years before meaningful change
The review, discussed by Metro Vancouver directors this week, said the campaign should continue to run, but could require years to achieve meaningful change from residents.
"Overcoming barriers and effecting long-lasting behaviour change can take several years to achieve and requires a long-term commitment," read the report.
Annual waste compensation studies by Metro Vancouver from 2020 and 2021 show that textiles persist in landfills despite the campaign.
In 2020, 1,245,314 tonnes of waste was sent to the region's landfills, nearly half a tonne per person.
Close to eight per cent of that waste was textiles, an increase most likely due to the pandemic and donation or recycling services being disrupted.
In 2021, textiles made up six per cent of all waste sent to the region's landfills, within the range of pre-pandemic levels.
The "Think Thrice" campaign is set to run again in 2023. It cost $150,000 in 2022.
Froese said despite losing the Return-It depots, there are still many places to drop off textiles, which can be found through the Metro Vancouver Recycles website.
The once-a-year clothing shop
A psychology professor at the University of British Columbia who studies behavioural solutions to address environmental sustainability challenges says the campaign is meaningful.
But she has a suggestion, she says, something she has adopted in her own life: only shopping for clothing once a year.
"I'm anticipating, I'm looking forward to my next shopping trip, because that's going to be so awesome," said Jiaying Zhao about making an event out of clothes shopping, thereby increasing satisfaction over it at the same time as reducing the amount of clothing she buys.
"It's the principle that abundance reduces appreciation."
The once-a-year-clothing shop is part of a free online workshop Zhao and her colleague Elizabeth Dunn developed, to outline principles and practices that increase residents' well-being and happiness along with helping the environment.