Bringing industry to the table – why corporate uniforms will be essential to solving textile recycling

Textiles make up approximately 1.5% of total household waste, and 4% of commercial and industrial (C&I) waste by weight (Commonwealth of Australia, 2010). Unfortunately, there is very little textile recycling occurring in Australia.

The fashion industry has been proactive in creating recycling options and they are approaching the issue from a range of angles. In recent years, we have seen the emergence of in-store collection by companies such as H&M and Patagonia, the development of new business models in renting outfits ‘per wear’, and myriad online clothes exchanges and directories.

Australia’s lack of textile recycling can be attributed to a number of different barriers and systemic issues:

  • Consumer motivation: if we can ‘freely’ dispose of textiles in the red lid bin at home how many people are really going to the trouble of taking clothes back for in-store recovery?
  • Inconsistency: take a look through your wardrobe and take a look at all the different fibers – cotton, wool, nylon, polyester – these all have various methods of separation and recovery, and many are still in a proof of concept stage.
  • Lastly, our separation methods for textiles still rely on predominantly manual sorting, making the mixed, post-consumer waste stream very uneconomical to separate for recycling.

To support the evolution of textile recovery, we need robust sources of supply, a strong business case for continued R&D, and investment in the infrastructure needed to achieve scale. There are two obvious places to start; post-industrial waste and offcuts (with obvious interest in textile recycling), and corporate uniforms. I want to focus on corporate uniforms here to outline the case for industry to engage with this issue more broadly.

Corporate Uniforms in Australia

Let’s start with some “back of the envelope” calculations….

Branded uniforms are being worn extensively in the healthcare, police, retail trade, manufacturing, food service, accommodation, mining, construction, logistics and postal sectors, which accounts for 6.4 million Australians. If just 75% of these workers wear uniforms and create 1-2kg of textile waste per year, there are 4,800 – 9,600 tonnes of corporate uniforms being generated in Australia each year.

Corporate uniforms provide the type of material that is needed to start building the business case for domestic collection, sorting, and recycling of textile waste. Corporate uniforms are of consistent materials, and provide a mass of identical garments, allowing us to focus on those fibers or blends that can make a large impact on textile recycling the near future.

Edge’s Circular Threads initiative is mapping our industrial network of textile production, use, and disposal to facilitate the circular textile trade – and we need your assistance. If you are procuring textiles there are ways to ensure that you are using recycled content, and conversely, there are many large-scale opportunities for unwanted textiles that need recovery.  Edge is looking for viable projects to trial the recovery of textiles through the NSW EPA’s Circulate program, which is focused on practical waste diversion and the development of legacy infrastructure for the industry.

If you are interested in being involved please contact Blake at blake@edgeenvironment.com.au.

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