Tackling textile waste – from school uniforms to tradies gear

The Hon Sussan Ley MP, Minister for the Environment

The Hon Trevor Evans MP, Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management

Having already set in train a billion-dollar transformation of Australia’s Recycling industry to tackle plastics, paper, glass and tyres, the Morrison Government is setting its sights on the 800,000 tonnes of clothing and textiles discarded by Australians each year.

Australians discard an average of 31 kilos of textiles per person annually, at a national rate of 15 tonnes of textile waste every ten minutes.

Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley today announced $350,000 to support Circular Threads – a new group to be led by The Australasian Circular Textile Association (ACTA) which will help tackle this growing problem.

The Minister announced that the Federal government will host a national roundtable on textile waste, bringing together the fashion industry, retailers, reuse charities, fibre producers, researchers and waste management to stop dumping clothes in landfill.

“We all have to wear clothes but we are buying them at such a rate that we don’t know what to do with them when they are too old, too worn or simply out of fashion,” Minister Ley said.

“Ninety per cent of our current textile waste ends up in landfill.

“According to ACTA, parents who have just been purchasing school uniforms and tradies getting ready for the year ahead will contribute 12,000 tonnes of branded uniforms alone to landfill in the next twelve months… the equivalent to dumping 4 million bricks or 7,500 family sedans.

“For the most part we are importing these items from overseas and dumping them in landfill here at the end of their life.”

Circular Threads will, among a range of strategies, look towards new technologies that can separate and re-purpose polyester and cotton components and create remanufacturing opportunities, and jobs in Australia.

National Retailer Kmart has welcomed the move and been one of the first to put up its hand to be a part of the Round table along with the Australian Fashion Council (additional quotes below).

Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Trevor Evans said that the focus on clothing waste is part of a wider product stewardship program being championed by the Morrison Government.

“We need industry to be taking up the challenge and driving the solutions,” the Assistant Minister said.

“The lessons from the success we are having with the recycling industry is to ensure these issues are driven by manufacturers and retailers rather than decreed by government, but there will be Government oversight and support.”

Minister Ley today will today visit Worn Up a Sydney start-up that is looking to give old school clothing a new life.

“There’s a huge opportunity to remanufacture this raw material into new products including school desks, and acoustic tiles, as well reforming the textile raw materials,” Worn Up CEO Anne Thompson said today.

“Suppliers, consumers and manufacturers need to collaborate to find as many options for remanufacturing onshore as possible and be as innovative with textiles as we have been with plastics.

“Our manufacturing heritage puts us in an amazing position to reclaim that space and apply Aussie innovation and know-how to this challenge. This has the potential to kickstart new industry for more jobs.”

CEO and founder of ACTA Camille Reed says the long term solution is to go even further and create a truly circular model.

“We need an industry led approach to find the ways we can break down clothing elements and re-use individual components and actually the fabrics themselves,” she said.

“There are some key technologies around the corner in terms of breaking down cotton and polyester blends and we need to be in a position to make the most of those opportunities.”

Minister Ley said that under new Sustainable Procurement Guidelines, Government departments will need to consider materials with recycled components, and take into account end-of-life disposal when determining contracts.

“With a workforce of around 7,000 employees, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has thousands of uniformed staff across the country and we need to show leadership through our purchasing decisions,” Minister Ley said.

“Half the Australian workforce wears a uniform to work yet Australia is only recycling around 1 per cent of end-of-life uniforms, so we need to do better.

“Circular Threads will be an important part of the conversation but it is also up to all Australians to seek out ethical and sustainable clothing choices wherever possible.

“This doesn’t have to mean people pay more. Making good fashion choices can be as simple as choosing timeless pieces for longevity, avoiding fast fashion, and shopping for pre-loved clothing wherever possible.”

The Circular Threads funding is part of the $20 million National Product Stewardship Investment Fund which has attracted strong industry support and is being implemented across a range of sectors.

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