The Federal Government is setting its sights on the 800,000 tonnes of clothing and textiles discarded by Australians each year, with $350,000 allocated to support Circular Threads – a new group to be led by the Australasian Circular Textile Association (ACTA).
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.
According to Environment Minister Sussan Ley, 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.
“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,” she said.
Ley added that ninety per cent of Australia’s textile waste currently 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 four million bricks or 7500 family sedans,” she said.
“For the most part we are importing these items from overseas and dumping them in landfill here at the end of their life.”
Under new Sustainable Procurement Guidelines, Ley said 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 7000 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,” she said.
“Half the Australian workforce wears a uniform to work, yet Australia is only recycling around one per cent of end-of-life uniforms, so we need to do better.”
Ley added that 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,” she said.
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.
“We need industry to be taking up the challenge and driving the solutions,” Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Trevor Evans 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.”
ACTA CEO and founder Camille Reed added that 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.”
In addition to the Circular Threads funding, 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.
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.