Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 1.48.36 pm

Tying up loose ends

A New South Wales initiative is looking at how to recycle thousands of tonnes of textile waste – potentially creating a whole new business model along the way. 

The key to creating sustainable solutions to environmental problems is to build strong business cases around them. That is the approach Tom Davies and his team at Edge Environment took when they were tasked with finding an industrial solution to divert waste from landfill through the New South Wales Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Circulate program.

By engaging 1,000 medium-to-large enterprises, Circulate aims to divert some 160,000 tonnes of waste to landfill between 2014 and 2017 and generate $21 million in additional income or savings for those involved. The program is part of the NSW EPA’s Waste Less, Recycle More initiative, which uses funds from the waste levy to drive behaviour change, infrastructure investment and innovation in new resource recovery solutions.

As a starting point for the project, Davies and his team analysed a range of NSW commercial and industrial waste audits to determine the most significant material streams coming out of the State. “We’ve been working with a lot of large corporates as part of the process and a common issue proved to be workwear,” he says – adding that large companies go through hundreds of tonnes of workwear every year. “So we started investigating textiles as a waste.”

Textile as a waste

As part of his initial research, Davies found that NSW generates about 153,000 tonnes of textile waste per year – the whole of Australia produces about 375,000 tonnes – and most of that is going directly to landfill. Of that textile waste, a massive 64 per cent is corporate workwear, a ratio too big to ignore, as Davies points out: “You need to find a starting point.

“To us, it quickly became clear that point had to be corporate workwear – it’s a huge volume of manmade bres that could be turned into new products.”

Davies points to the iconic Australia Post organisation as an example for smart bre-recycling: “Australia Post had 200 tonnes of textiles as redundant stock that it had accumulated over two years, as it’s constantly evolving its uniforms. To address the problem, they teamed up with Dunlop and turned the waste into carpet underlay.”

While highly effective, the solution was a one-off only, Davies says: “What we were looking for was a long-term, self-sustaining solution. We roughly knew the breakdown of those materials, so it was obvious it was all valuable stuff that was ending up in landfill,” he explains.

Read the full story on page 26 of Issue 10.