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Vancouver firm offers security uniform disposal service

A Vancouver company has devised a way to make absolutely sure old security uniforms don’t fall into the hands of would-be imposters. They shred them.


October 16, 2011
By Linda Johnson

debrand Services physically removes all identifying marks and logos from branded clothing and then uses a process called fibre reclamation to dispose of the uniform.

“Most people with textiles donate them to a local charity. But, obviously, when it’s a security risk, that’s not the best route,” says manager Pete Scott. “Sometimes, uniforms find their way into the wrong hands, especially since a lot of charities sell to Valu Village or other second-hand clothing stores.”

Most of the company’s customers so far have been corporations and sports and entertainment organizations. These clients include Canucks Sports and Entertainment, Vancouver Whitecaps, Scotiabank, Lululemon and the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE).

Uniforms, dropped off or picked up, are first sorted, and all non-textile items —  which interfere with the fibre reclaiming process — are removed. Then, the logos are removed and shredded. Different machinery is used depending on the type of material being processed and the level of security required by the client.

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Uniforms and logos are baled and shipped off to a recycling company for fibre reclamation. During that process, the uniforms are reduced to pulp fibre, a material used in secondary applications such as car padding and insulation.

In addition to uniforms, debrand also recycles a lot of damaged and recalled clothing. In this case, Scott says, business comes from companies looking for a more environmentally responsible alternative to landfill and incineration.

“There are two sides to textile recycling.  When we’re not recycling for companies that have a security risk associated with the uniforms, we’re recycling for clothing manufacturers. And that’s typically going to be companies that are more interested in the environmental side.”

Lindsay O’Donnell, sales coordinator and sustainability committee chair at the PNE, which sent their outdated staff uniforms to debrand, says they appreciated the greener aspect of fibre reclamation.

“debrand’s unique service has allowed us to divert materials from the landfill that would otherwise be non-recyclable,” she says.

debrand started five years ago as a company that specialized in recycling marketing materials. The founders, Amelia Ufford and Wes Baker, had previously worked at a marketing agency, Inventa, where they dealt with high profile brand companies, such as Nike.

Many companies, the two realized, want brand protection specifically for the marketing materials left over after promotional campaigns. They don’t want to just throw it into the nearest garbage bin.

“They found that there’s this niche that wasn’t recognized, focusing on brand protection,” Scott says. “And that’s how we got the idea for the uniforms and secure recycling.”



Incorporated in 2008, the young company got a big boost during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, or rather, when the games ended, and corporate sponsors went looking for environmentally friendly ways to recycle their promotional items.

“Like RBC with the torch relay. When they were done with that, they had a lot of materials left over,” he said. “It can be any kind of display — plastics, wood. We usually get things that are mixed, things that weren’t necessarily designed to be recycled. We were able to pull them apart and allocate them into the right streams.”

The decision to expand into uniforms and sports outfits came after some clients, including the PNE, came to debrand and asked if they could recycle their old textiles.  Not being able to find a solution already out there, the company devised its own.

“We found fibre reclamation was the best route especially for textiles with a security risk,” Scott says.

Canucks Sports and Entertainment needed a company to recycle old event staff uniforms when their home arena underwent a name change — from General Motors Place to Rogers Arena.

“debrand offered a solution that protected the integrity of our previous brand, was cost effective and supported our sustainability objectives,” says Indira Fisher, director of event services. “This initiative helped us divert almost 2,000 garments from going to landfill.”

While all uniforms and clothing coming in now are shredded and reduced to pulp, the company plans to soon start donating some material to charity, Scott says. Sometimes, they receive a shipment of tons of textiles, and not all of that has to be recycled. But they won’t be sending the cloth overseas.

“The amount of donation that goes on globally cripples developing nations who try to have their own textile industries. And there is an environmental cost to shipping to other continents,” he says.

“We’re always looking for the absolute best environment options, and that’s typically not one of them. Re-use is a great option but, hopefully, we’ll find some solutions closer to home.”

The demand for secure recycling will increase, Scott adds, as more companies seek greener disposal methods and as governments impose stricter security regulations.

“As new laws come into effect, there will have to be greater responsibility regarding uniforms, and people will be obligated, especially in B.C., to have an end-of-life solution, not only for uniforms but for all textiles. That’s the direction we’re headed in.”

debrand is working now on expanding into other industries, such as guard companies, airlines and university campuses. They are also considering setting up a site in Toronto.

So far, Scott has not been able to find any other company in Canada or the U.S. that does secure recycling. The closest one is in England, and it recycles only wool. So, he thinks, there are lots of markets left to explore.

“That’s what makes it interesting. It’s always great doing something innovative,” he says.


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