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Gulf Island recycling organization seeking funds to turn garbage garments into textile treasures

The world slowed down last spring when the pandemic struck and, to at least one B.C. recycling organization, it feels like many people used the time to take stock of the fast fashion purchases piling up in their closet — and then drop them off in vast quantities.

Now, the Gabriola Island Recycling Organization, inundated with bags upon bags of donated clothing, is reaching out to the Regional District of Nanaimo in hopes of securing funding to turn pounds of discarded textiles into new products.

Michelle MacEwen, the organization’s general manager, said the group gets about 100 bags weighing about 10 kilograms every week of used clothes and fabrics. While some is able to be sold in a local island thrift store, about half of it is not.

Until the pandemic, MacEwan said it would be picked up by a diabetes organization that would take about 400 bags every eight weeks from the island to be sold at thrift stores elsewhere. That is no longer the case because everyone is at capacity for clothes right now.

The GIRO RE-store sells used clothing and other goods on Gabriola Island. It is currently closed until Jan. 20 and is not accepting donated clothing until Jan. 30 because of an abundance of donations. (

“I think everybody was clearing out their closets while isolating at home,” said MacEwan, speaking on CBC’s On The Island Thursday.

By securing $100,000 from the RDN, MacEwan hopes to work with other islanders, many of whom she says have some great ideas for the heaps of cloth, to turn the fabrics into new products. Doing so, she says, will stop bags of clothes from ending up in the Nanaimo landfill. 

Preliminary product ideas include re-designed garments and shredding the clothes into stuffing for yoga cushions, stools and punching bags.

“We really want to keep our waste in our backyard,” she said.

MacEwan said funding would be used to help pay for equipment such as a commercial shredder or digital sewing machines. 

The RDN will make a funding decision by the end of January. MacEwan said if it does not pan out, the organization will look elsewhere. She said funding could also possibly come from Western Economic Diversification Canada.

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