Whitehorse firefighter Nicholas O’Carroll demonstrates loading used clothes into a clothing bank receptacle at Raven Recycling August 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

New Whitehorse recycling program to ship bales of used clothing south

City residents threw away 1 million pounds of clothing last year

By Rhiannon Russell

A new recycling program for used clothing opened in Whitehorse this week, filling a void created by the closure of local free stores and the Salvation Army’s thrift shop.

The initiative is based out of Raven Recycling Society’s building on Galena Road, where four large red bins are now serving as depositories for clean used clothing.

The partnership — between Raven, the Whitehorse Firefighters Charitable Society (WFCS), and Pacific Northwest Freight Systems — will see the clothes shipped south to Vancouver, where an exporter will sort and sell them.

“Some things will just turn into industrial rags and get reused in that manner,” said Whitehorse firefighter Nicholas O’Carroll at a press conference at Raven on Thursday. “Other stuff is going to go to Africa and Asia and different locations.”

The proceeds will be split evenly between Raven and the WFCS.

“We get a heavily discounted amount for shipping from Pacific Northwest,” said O’Carroll. “What’s left of that, we divide up between the two of us.”

Raven Recycling’s Danny Lewis said he knows there’s a need for this.

“This is definitely a relief valve, just to help with some of the issues that are happening right now with the clothing in our city,” he said.

Whitehorse has seen a recent shuttering of all of its outlets for used clothing and other items. The free store at the city’s landfill closed in the spring of 2016, followed by the Salvation Army’s thrift shop in April of this year. The charity’s executive director said at the time that people were dropping off bags and bags of things that were, essentially, trash.

The following month, Raven closed its free store as well.

“It was an avalanche effect,” said O’Carroll. “When one was pulled out, it was all dumped onto the next one. When the next one pulled out, it was all dumped onto the next one. It was putting a lot of stress on our system.”

About one million pounds of textiles were dumped at the landfill last year, he said. “So I’m sure it’s probably way more since.”

The new program is one that’s working in six cities in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, said Terry Hunt, a member of the Surrey Fire Fighters Charitable Society who was also at the press conference.

“We’ve been able to generate lots of funding, put it back into the community, and it’s been very successful,” he said. “I believe it can work here too.”

The society has also opened a thrift store in Surrey. Last year, the store and the bins brought in about $100,000 in net profit, he said. He estimated that some bins average between $300 and $400 per month.

Lewis said the sale price depends on the type of clothing, and the market fluctuates, but right now, the going rate is about 20 cents per pound.

People who are dropping off clothes at the Whitehorse bins are asked to remember a simple motto: “Wash ‘em, bag ‘em, drop ‘em off,” O’Carroll said. “Soiled clothing will end up in our landfill.

“We know Whitehorse has struggled in the past with people dumping in certain areas. We’re trying to clean that up. We feel that if you give someone a nice place to put their recycling, they’ll treat it nice as well.”

Lewis said Raven staff will be monitoring the bins to ensure people aren’t dropping off anything besides clothes.

“We don’t want people to get the idea that the free store is now open and you end up with coasters and baby items and other sorts of things,” he said.

The WFCS hopes to divert 120,000 pounds of clothing in the first year of operation.

O’Carroll said the firefighters would like to use the funds for the Share the Spirit campaign, which provides food and toys for local families at Christmas. Last year, the first year the firefighters managed the drive, they helped 225 families. This year, they hope to raise that number to 300.

“We’re always going to need more money because we’re trying to grow it,” said O’Carroll. “To do that, we need more consistent funding.”

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