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Unlocking textile recycling

textile recycling

Alexis Todorovski, National Executive SCRgroup, says Australia is on the right path to increase textile and clothing recycling.

Every year, Australians purchase an average of 27 kilograms of new clothing each and throw out about 23 kilograms of used clothing, according to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

Large quantities of methane gas is being released into the atmosphere as textiles rot in landfill. Dyes in clothing can also contaminate soil and waterways as they are exposed over time.

As the second highest consumer of textiles in the world on a per capita basis, Australia presents the “ideal” conditions for a national circular economy for the material says Alexis Todorovski, National Executive  for reuse and recycling company SCRgroup.

In May 2021, the group took part in Australia’s first National Clothing Textile Waste roundtable which brought together key players across government, retail, charity and waste management to discuss the challenges and opportunities for textile waste.

Alexis says that while national conversation is encouraging, there’s still more work to be done.

“Our textile recycling rate is one of the lowest in the world, sitting at 12 per cent. The environmental impact of clothes sitting in landfill is detrimental,” she says. “But the solutions are quite simple, to fix a large problem.”

SCRgroup provides a network of 1600 clothing drop-off hubs across the country. These hubs have been visited by more than two million Australians and 94 per cent of what is collected is diverted away from landfill.

Alexis says collection hubs are “the best form of collection that you can get” but a lack of cohesion on a government level is hindering their set-up.

“Here in Australia, we don’t have overarching objectives within our Federal and State Governments for clothing and textiles,” she says. “Local government areas and councils each have different policies and legislation that they adhere to. Some councils have banned clothing drop-off hubs, whereas others really promote it.”

Alexis says that a united network has proven to be effective in France.

“France implemented a policy of one clothing collection point for every 1500 inhabitants. Clothing hubs doubled over a 10-year period and during that time, their textile recycling rates tripled,” she says. “It’s critical to have a national approach and have objectives to achieve.”

Alexis says education is also key. She says primary schools offer education around plastic, cardboard and paper recycling. But there is very little about textile recycling.

“When these students grow into an age where they are tasked to make important decisions, they aren’t fully aware of the impact that clothing and textiles can have on the environment,” she says. “We run a school program designed to help boost national textile recycling rates, by introducing the issue early in student learning.”

As part of this education, Alexis hopes the importance of reuse can also be stressed.

“It’s much better for the environment and very economical to reuse as much as we can from the clothing we collect.”

Every year, SCRgroup re-homes more than 41 million items of unwanted clothing, both nationally and overseas. Alex says the first step for consumers to drive demand for second-hand clothing is making small lifestyle changes.

“Really think about where you’re putting your clothes after you’re done with them and set aside time to clean out your wardrobe,” she says. “If each Australian cleaned out one bag of unwanted clothing from their wardrobe, that’s 25 million bags of clothes.” 

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