Kingston City Council defers decision on textile recycling pilot project

On Tuesday, Jul. 11, 2023, Kingston City Council voted to defer a decision on a partnership between the City and RenewalSquared Inc., a for-profit textile recycling company. Screen captured image.

A proposed textile recycling pilot project in Kingston has hit a delay, as Kingston City Council voted on Tuesday, Jul. 11, 2023, to defer a decision on a partnership between the City of Kingston and RenewalSquared Inc., while staff conduct further consultations with local charities that may be impacted by the program. 

According to a staff report distributed in advance of Tuesday’s meeting, the pilot project would have seen the City partner with the Trenton-based for-profit company to facilitate 20 textile donation bins at City-owned buildings. The pilot would have run for nine months in an effort to divert materials such as linens and towels from ending up in area landfills. 

The report noted that in 2022, textiles accounted for over 4.0 per cent of yearly waste for the average household in Kingston. “Almost half of those household textiles are linens and towels (6.75kg) while the second most generated textile waste is clothing at about a quarter of the textile stream,” added the report. 

When the report was brought forward for debate on Tuesday night, it generated mixed reactions from councillors. While many were in favour of the plan to recycle waste that would otherwise end up in the garbage, some raised concerns about the impact the project could have on local charities that rely on clothing donations from the public. 

“I have a problem with this in that we are, as a City,… promoting and reaching out to a for-profit company, when we have a number of charities in the area that are reliant on donations from Kingstonians,” said Portsmouth District Councillor Don Amos. The staff report indicated that organizations like the Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul Society currently facilitate clothing donation bins throughout the city, with the organizations then able to sell the materials as part of their fundraising efforts. 

While the report did state that prospective textile recycling bin sites were evaluated based on their proximity to charitable drop-off bins, it became clear during Tuesday night’s meeting that councillors wanted staff to conduct further consultations with local charities. In response to a question from Countryside District Councillor Gary Oosterhof, Karen Santucci, the City’s Director of Public Works and Solid Waste, confirmed that staff had not consulted directly with the charities. 

“We haven’t necessarily consulted with them. We have looked at the areas in which the bins would go, to ensure they wouldn’t compete with current bins that are in place,” Santucci said. When asked about what sorts of textiles would be recycled during the pilot project, Santucci noted the organization would take any materials residents chose to donate, which could include items that would otherwise be given to charities. “They will accept anything that gets put in the bins. Some of the material will be reused and sold, [while] some of the material will go to be recycled. It’s dependent on the quality of the [items],” she said. 

Collins-Bayridge District Councillor Lisa Osanic spoke in favour of the staff recommendation, as she noted the benefit of being able to recycle items like used rags, which would typically end up in landfills. “I can now bring [old linens] with holes in them to these textile bins… because I would never give them to [organizations like] Value Village and the Salvation Army,” remarked Osanic. 

Given that many councillors noted the importance of further consultation with local charities, Oosterhof eventually put forward a motion to defer the report until September, to give staff time to reach out to the not-for-profit organizations. “I think we as a council want to get things right,” Oosterhof said, “and we can recognize that we don’t quite have it right here [in terms of] engagement with our community, which is the most important thing. September gives it that amount of time.”

As for whether a deferral would impact the timing of the pilot project, Santucci confirmed that the proposal is not time-dependent, meaning it can be launched this fall if Council approves the report when it is brought back in September. 

Not all councillors were in favour of the motion to defer, however. Lakeside District Councillor Wendy Stephen questioned the impact consultations would have on the proposal as it currently stands, saying, “If we do defer this, I’m not sure how this is really going to change. I understand that we want to consult and give consideration to the charities… [but] I think this [pilot project] is not necessarily going to take away from these charities that are already well established. I think this is [just] providing another option.”

Despite Stephen’s objections, Council ultimately voted in favour of deferring a decision. City staff will spend the next several weeks consulting with local charities before the motion is brought back for discussion at the September 19, 2023, council meeting. Based on comments from councillors, the organization behind the pilot project, RenewalSquared, is expected to appear before Council to answer additional questions. 

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