Last week, the Australian Fashion Council received a $ 1 million grant to start working with the industry to reduce the country’s mountain of textile waste. That’s a pittance compared to the money offered to recycle other products, however, and it has left some in the industry feeling disappointed.
Julie Boulton and Aleasha McCallion are project managers at the Monash Sustainable Development Institute and co-authors of a report on a circular T-shirt which was released in March of this year. McCallion says the $ 1 million subsidy, compared to other waste streams, is further proof that the fashion industry is “consistently overlooked and underestimated, both on economic value and how the system affects everyone â.
The grant, which will help establish the country’s first national textile products stewardship program, is part of a $ 1 billion plan to transform Australia’s waste and recycling that was announced last year. At the time, $ 190 million has been allocated for new infrastructure to recycle plastic, paper, tires and glass, a figure that eclipses the amount so far allocated to fashion waste.
Fashion Council Interim CEO Kellie Hush said there was “a long way to go of course, but it’s a good start for the federal government to join us in realizing the problem.”
The problem being the 23kg of clothing the average Australian throws in landfills each year – placing Australians in the unenviable position of being the second largest consumers of textiles in the world, per capita, behind the United States. While it is possible to recycle clothing in Australia, the sector has very low adoption rates due to a lack of infrastructure to collect, sort and recycle textiles.
The council will use grant money to work with industry stakeholders – including designers, retailers, manufacturers, charities and textile recyclers – to create three reports by March 2023 The first will examine the data and material flow. The second will analyze global initiatives, policies and technologies promoting circularity in textiles. The third will make recommendations on how to move forward, including a roadmap to 2030 in accordance with Objectives of the National Waste Policy Action Plan.
Hush says the first step is to work with the industry to investigate what is realistic. She says that once the reports are written, “we will have recommendations and I can assure you that some of them, or most of them, will require investments with the federal government and private companies to help us. finance these programs â.
Alice Payne is Associate Professor of Fashion Design at the Queensland University of Technology and one of the experts who will shape the program. She says, âThis is just the start of what will actually be a longer journeyâ¦ this amount of funds is a way to bring stakeholders together. She says they will build on existing work in scientific literature and reports from around the world and adapt it to the “Australian context in consultation with Australian stakeholders”.
These conversations will explore changes in design and manufacturing for sustainability, as well as charitable recycling and used business models, the need for innovation and investment in recycling technology, and consumer education. For now, the focus is on the industry and not on policy or legislative changes.
The principles of a circular fashion industry are well established, but have recently been popularized by international nonprofit organizations like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which produces major research and reports on fashion circularity. According to the foundation, a circular fashion industry is one where clothing is designed to be recyclable and sustainable, so that it can be worn over and repaired, and shared and resold until end of life, when are collected to be recycled or returned to Earth.
McCallion and Boulton took inspiration from the foundation’s work to write their report on a circular t-shirt. âWe should seek to adapt the great overseas examples to the Australian context and work together to move the agenda forward as quickly as possible,â says McCallion. âWe are not reinventing the wheel.
They say there is evidence overseas that circularity works when you have a collaboration with industry alongside legislation and policy change.
Boulton says: âWe are five to ten years behind what is happening in the EU, in France, in the Netherlands, in Germany. They’re having these debates right now on labeling and banning textile wasteâ¦ that’s what we should be doing. It’s silly to focus on locally made products, it’s such a small part. We need to go beyond product stewardship and we need government regulation to look at what’s happening and stop the bad things. “
The European Union is currently working on legislation to manage and control textile waste. From 2023, all clothing and footwear sold in the EU will carry color-coded labels informing customers of the product’s environmental impact. Under the European Commission’s Waste Framework Directive, member states will have to set up separate collections for textiles by 2025. Payne says whether or not this model is followed will be determined by “conversations with councils as well as with state governments, etc. It can be part of it, but it is something that will have to be determined in the group.
Adrian Jones is the co-founder of BlockTexx, a technology company that is building Australia’s first large-scale textile recycling facility in Logan, Queensland. He also thinks the government needs to establish a legislative framework, because under voluntary codes companies don’t change.
âWe only saw significant changes in France, the Netherlands and Denmark because governments said we were heading towards an export ban, or a system of remuneration for producers or consumers, or a combination of all of the above. Then we saw a significant growth in chemical recycling on land.
The BlockTexx factory uses chemical recycling technology, which is preferred over mechanics because it produces a higher quality material that can be recycled again. In three years, the plant is expected to process 10,000 tonnes of textile waste per year. Jones says, âIf you want to solve the textile waste problem, you have to do it in volume, you cannot be artisanal. “
He says the infrastructure required for large-scale recycling would cost “tens of millions of dollars,” but it doesn’t all have to come from the government. To finance their new plant, BlockTexx raised $ 5.5 million: $ 1 million from the federal government, $ 1 million from the Queensland government and $ 3.5 million from private investment.
Despite this, it is fortunate that the $ 1 million grant has been awarded to the fashion council. “I just hope it’s well spent and doesn’t produce a lot of research that says ‘wouldn’t it be good if we did something about textile waste?’ We kind of know that.