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What To Do With Australia’s Old Clothes - Fashion - Nairaland

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What To Do With Australia’s Old Clothes by gabriellad(f): 9:15am On Jun 16, 2022
The statistics are so oft-quoted that they are almost meaningless: Australians, the second-biggest consumers of textiles in the world (after the United States), acquire, on average, 27 kilograms of new clothing and footwear each year – and we dispose of about 23 kilograms in turn.

Just 12 per cent of those discarded textiles is recycled, meaning an estimated 800 million kilograms of it winds up in landfill, emitting toxic methane gases 25 per cent more warming than carbon dioxide, and leaching harmful dyes into soil and waterways.

Alexis Todorovski, business development executive at SCRGroup, a non-profit working to provide recycling solutions for Australia’s textiles, puts it bluntly.

“For a first-world country, we should be doing much better at this,” she says. “We have a serious problem with the amount of textiles going into landfill.

“Our textile recycling rate is very low. What we know is that people want to recycle, they want to access options. The challenge is providing access, and making it easy for people.”Ms Todorovski is part of a vanguard of fashion industry executives rallying for more efficient and viable recycling and reuse options.

SCRGroup works with retailers such as H&M and Assembly Label, and big shopping centre networks such as Charter Hall to collect unwanted clothing and convert it into biofuel, downcycle it to rags or repurpose the fabric into shopping bags.

With 90 collection hubs across 37 shopping centres, the organisation has diverted more than 7 million kilograms of textiles from landfill since the program’s inception in 2019.

But, says Ms Todorovski, there is much more to be done. The sector’s biggest challenge, she says, is convincing government bodies to adopt consistent gold standard practices at local, state and federal levels.

“By far our biggest hurdle is the government,” she says. “Policies can be inconsistent, and they are often not in line with global best practice.”

Overcoming bureaucratic red tape “should not be this hard,” she adds, pointing to France as a model to imitate.

While the European Union last year mandated that member states must stop incinerating and throwing away textiles by 2025, France has been recycling textiles since 2008, setting up industry body Refashion to manage the process.

Recycling’s on trend

“There is one collection hub for every 1500 people in France,” Ms Todorovski says, “and that has meant the country has tripled its recycling rate in just seven years. Let’s do the things that have been shown to be successful overseas. We don’t need to start from scratch.”

Ms Todorovski previously worked with former environment minister Sussan Ley to implement a National Clothing Product Stewardship Scheme with the Australian Fashion Council. That program is run by Danielle Kent, and is due to deliver key findings at the end of July.

“What we have found so far is that there are lots of smaller, grassroots organisations already doing great work in this space,” Kent says.

“The sector is filled with people who have come up against this problem and have looked up the chain to see who can help them. And there is no national textile recycling program, so they have done it themselves.”

Bringing these groups together and harnessing their knowledge will help to build a framework for textile waste, Kent says.

Collecting discarded textiles is one part of the problem; something must also be done with them.

Annie Thompson founded Worn Up in 2016 to tackle waste in school uniforms. Last year alone, the business collected more than 65 tonnes of old school clothes.

For the past two years, Ms Thompson has been testing a new material she calls FabTec, a hard plastic alternative made with old clothes and fit for use as benchtops, kitchen counters, tables, desks and more.

From 2023, after further prototype testing, she hopes to work with builders to install FabTec into homes and businesses.

Like Ms Todorovski, Ms Thompson believes more government assistance is required to tackle textile waste.

“We don’t have the mechanisms in Australia to deal with the volumes of textiles we have,” she says. “We don’t have enough upcyclers or collection mechanisms in place to deal with the amount we are throwing away.”

Worn Up operates for profit because Ms Thompson believes “the solution to sustainability should be a commercially successful one” and the company is currently seeking investment.

Plant-based underwear

“You cannot rely on government help,” she says. “But in saying that, I’m optimistic that this new government will enable the logistics and machinery to support schemes like this.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Stephanie Devine, founder of sustainable underwear brand The Very Good Bra, who wants a national standard for composting textiles.

“The underwear I make is plant-based, so it will break down and leave no negative impact at the end of its life if buried in soil,” Ms Devine says.

Despite this, commercial composting initiatives will not take textiles, even those that are made with biodegradable materials such as Ms Devine’s. She has implemented a take-back scheme for her customers, but the volume she receives cannot be composted commercially – yet.

“Local commercial composters are keen to do this, but they want the products to have a certified home composting standard first,” she says.

After approaching laboratories, Ms Devine realised there was no Australian standard for textile composting, which she believes is a significant part of our clothing waste issue.

“I was astounded,” she says. “We know that in controlled industry-run trials, natural textiles have shown positive results in increasing the nitrogen-carbon ratio in composting.

“But until we have a standard in place for brands and textile manufactures to adhere to, those recovery facilities cannot confidently accept textile material or products.”

Ms Devine is now lobbying for an Australian standard for textile composting, similar to that which exists for bioplastic mail bags.

“All state governments have committed to zero textiles to landfill by 2030, but at present have no mechanism for diverting textiles into other waste streams,” Ms Devine says.

It won’t happen quickly, she warns, estimating at least two years to get the program running. Like Ms Thompson, Ms Devine is also seeking funding for her research.

But while recycling at end-of-life is part of the solution, reducing consumption and shifting the way clothing is made is also critical, Ms Devine adds.

“At the moment, the burden of circularity is on the consumer,” she says. “I’d love to see that transferred to the manufacturer. It’s very easy to make a $2 pair of socks, but they will not last forever, and someone has to deal with them when they fall apart.”Read more at:formal dresses online australia | long formal dresses

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