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CBC's All Points West - April 22, 2022: Gabriola fabric recycling effort takes off

Listen to C2C Project Lead & GIRO GM, Michelle Kresnyak, interviewed live on CBC's 'All Points West' for Earth Day. Rohit Joseph spoke with Michelle Kresnyak, general manager of the Gabriola Island Recycling Organization.

Joseph: Today is Earth Day, it's a time to reflect on our choices around consumption and how we can all cut back, reuse, or recycle. That's the mission at the Gabriola Island Recycling Organization. Since the pandemic hit, it has taken this mandate to the next level. A glut of donated clothing has inspired a new venture. It's called Cradle-to-Cradle Threads, or C-2-C Threads for short, is a social enterprise that takes old clothes and other linens, and transforms them into new items. Already, it's attracted grants, has a product line on stores shelves, and it's looking to expand.

To give us the update, we've reached Michelle Kresnyak, she's the General Manager of the Gabriola Island Recycling. Organization.

Joseph: Your organization runs a thrift shop, selling donated clothing and linens, but recently you've started repurposing some of the surplus textiles. Can you tell us about some of the kinds of things you make and how it all works?

Kresnyak: Absolutely. A lot has been happening since the pandemic began. We've created a new product line, which is called ReLove Local.

“The goal has been to create a financially-sustainable cradle-to-cradle textile enterprise, where we are producing durable, useful goods using techniques that will eliminate the textile waste that our community is producing.”

The last 6 months or so, we have been contracting local textile makers and apprentices and they've been designing and developing this product line, which we launched last November.

To date, the makers have hand-made about 1,500 one-of-a-kind products entirely from the textile waste. All these products are multi-purpose and they're either replacing single-use items like baby wipes or plastic wrap, paper towels, or the products are diverting a significant volume of textile waste through using them in stuffed applications like pet beds and yoga cushions.

Our aim is to make the products affordable as well promoting consumer behaviour change and also paying our makers a living wage. You can find the ReLove Local line at GIRO and the Gabriola summer market and also the Beban Nanaimo Market and hopefully we'll have it at some other locations going forward as well!

Joseph: What would you say is the appeal of these products?

Kresnyak: I think people are so inspired by the story when they realize that purchasing these products, they're not only great products that are going to help them replace a single-use item, they are helping to support an enterprise that is capturing a local waste stream rather than shipping that waste stream overseas to second-hand markets or having it go to the landfill. Those textiles are being turned into really useful, durable products. I think people get pretty excited about how they can support that initiative, whether it's through buying the products and learning more about how they can reduce their own footprint by replacing single-use items with these kinds of long-lasting products.

Joseph: So far, how's the business doing?

Kresnyak: It's doing really well! We're expanding the product line to include items that people use every day, like tote bags. We're using stretch denim - a lot of stretch denim comes through the Depot that really doesn't sell because stretch denim is no longer that popular as a fashion item. It's great to be able to use those kinds of textiles into a repurposed product that people will be keen to buy because they look wonderful and they have so much durability - they'll last for years.

We're offering a repair service as well. If products are damaged or need repair, people can bring them back to us and we can repair them. It's going well.

Joseph: That's lovely to hear. Now, Gabriola Island, it's a pretty small community. Do people sometimes recognize their old dress in say, I don't know, a yoga pillow or something?

Kresnyak: It does happen! It's happened to me, where I've donated clothing: skirts, shirts and then I notice the product line coming out and been like "oh, that was a skirt of mine and now it's an Everything Cloth or an Unpaper Towel." It's wonderful to see that because then you see that clothing has a story and it's wonderfully exciting to see it being turned into something else you know someone else is going to enjoy using for a long time. So yeah, that's kind of magical to see that happen.

Joseph: Speaking of new uses and transformation, I understand that you're also working on developing a sound panel using shredded fabrics. How does that all work?

Kresnyak: That's right. That's been a really interesting process as well. We partnered with a professor at BCIT, Maureen Connelly, who's been developing panels completely using shredded textiles and she's been doing sound-absorbency tests using various types of fibre and varied shred size.

The machine that we recently bought, we purchased our shredder specifically to support the kind of shred size that Maureen will need for these sound panels. I knew nothing about sound panels until we met Maureen, but it's a growing industry. More and more businesses are prioritizing healthier work environments. The market research that we've done has had really positive feedback from many different industry sectors from studios to corporate workplaces, gyms, community halls, as well as home office space as more and more people want to have a space that doesn't have so much sound reverberation or interference with human connection. You know restaurants, cafes, they can be used in so many different spaces - wherever there's any kind of noise reverberation. So, we're excited about those as well and Maureen has also been working with local carpenters to create a prototype for the frame using dimensional wood waste from construction sites. We're hoping that will be the other waste stream that we capture on Gabriola - wood waste - so that the panels can be made from 100% upcycled materials.

Joseph: Do you hope to scale up C2C Threads and export it to other communities? Could this model work in other communities?

Kresnyak: Absolutely. We've been already focusing on community outreach activities where we've been doing workshops to help support other communities in BC that would like to create repurposing strategies for their own textile waste streams. This has been done already with a series of workshops and we'll be continuing that work throughout the rest of the year developing a video and curriculum for those communities to access as well.

It's really exciting to speak to other communities and learn what unique challenges they have with their own textile waste and be able to share our process to date. They're finding it super helpful and a great way to strategize what they can do with their own waste stream.

Joseph: We just have a minute left, but, with it being Earth Day - what would you like to say to people?

Kresnyak: If you're going to buy clothing, entertain the idea of thrift store shopping for one-of-a-kind pieces because it really does support reuse and extending the life of that clothing and helps to divert it from the landfill. If you're going to buy new, do some research. Look for more sustainable brands that are committed to reducing their footprint and also have ethical values around their own manufacturing process.

I love the statement somebody made:

"The most sustainable piece of clothing is the one you already have in your wardrobe."

I think we could all support that idea of reducing our consumption and being content with what we already have.

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