Use, re-use, re-make: circular economy lessons from a Dutch jeans producer

Re-use jeans - Mud Jeans

What if you could lease your clothes, then when you’ve grown tired of them, return them for re-use or re-purposing? Now, imagine doing that for every item you use, in your personal, corporate and industrial life? If we can find ways to ‘use and re-use’ rather than ‘use and chuck’, we’re on our way to creating a true circular economy.

“Do something. Progress. Move forwards. One thing always leads to another. The worst thing you can do is nothing…”

The above is a mash-up of advice given to me over the years, which I’ve recently applied to our circular economy work. Edge Environment is focused on accelerating the circular economy in NSW. In simple terms, we find waste streams heading for landfill and match them with a re-use solution, feeding them back into the economy for productive re-use.

This constant pursuit has opened our eyes to the opportunity for innovative resource recovery. We are excited, “frothing” even, as one of my esteemed colleagues describes it, to find, each week, tonnes of cheese going to landfill; 20% of all bread on supermarket shelves; pallets of PVC hoardings, enough to make a stack taller than Everest in a year (a standard AU pallet is 150mm high – a quick number crunch!); not to mention the soft-plastic mountain, the sea of furniture, fields of plasterboard, glass and so on.

What’s MUD got to do with it?

I recently attended the Sustainable Brands Conference on behalf of Edge Environment. A headline speakerMud jeans was Bert van Son, founder of MUD Jeans – a manufacturer that leases its stock rather than selling permanently to the consumer. (L–R: Myself and Bert).

Based in the Netherlands, this fellow B Corporation will lease you a pair of jeans for EU$7 per month and, after a year, you can either return them for a new pair and continue the lease, or keep them. Any jeans that are returned and suitably worn in with fashionable rips and tears graduate to the ‘Vintage’ collection, and others that are not so fashionably ‘distressed’ are sent to Valencia in Spain where they are re-processed into denim cotton and re-woven into new MUD jeans.

Meeting Bert, the founder of MUD jeans, was a pleasure: he’s someone with the vision and entrepreneurial spirit to get on and do it, test the systems, develop new ones where there are gaps, solve problems and deliver new production and consumption models to the world. Bert is so important because the systems and processes he is building are creating the infrastructure and systems for the new economy, the vanguard of a new way.

Re-using Bert’s ideology

In a similar fashion, Edge Environment works with Australia Post and KFC, who are both committed to finding alternative end-of-life solutions for their corporate uniforms. Although MUD Jeans’ solution won’t work for all of their uniforms, there are aspects that can be applied. What we need is an Australian ‘Bert’ who is willing to take on the challenge of re-processing a spectrum of textiles and benefit from the determination of solution-seeking companies like Australia Post and KFC.

For our part, we are now leasing MUD jeans for the whole Edge Environment team. We are the first company in Australia to ‘lease’ corporate wear (hey, we work by the beach in Manly!), at the same time reducing our footprint and catalysing the circular economy.

We are also looking for more opportunities to build the Australian circular economy, in conjunction with the NSW Environmental Protection Agency’s Waste Less Recycle More Policy and its ‘Circulate’ program. Another outcome of this MUD alliance is the discovery of the Circle Economy Textile program that Edge is working with to find solutions for the stack of corporate uniforms awaiting their next life.

So, is this the beginning of the story about the circular textile economy here in Australia? It is here now, we are wearing the evidence and will continue to nurture these opportunities into the foundations of our Australian Circular Economy. It’s all good progress.

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