There is a lot of interest at the moment in Australia on the end-of-life solutions for clothing and textiles and I was recently interviewed for an ABC Science article about the key issues and opportunities for textile recycling.

The textile and clothing recycling sector in Australia has a long history of sorting, on-selling or recycling our pre-loved garments. The charity clothing sector and the textile recyclers (who mainly ship our old clothes off-shore) have done a great job at keeping garments out of landfill and creating new materials from natural fibres like cotton and wool (e.g. for use as filling for the building sector or rags for industrial wipes etc). But, most of this recycling has been what we call ‘down cycling’ into lower value materials and we have never been able to deal with the synthetic and mixed fibres effectively.

“People were able to crudely recycle say, cotton or wool, but they really didn’t know what to do when it was a polyester mixed with a cotton,” Dr Vuletich said.

There is also the astounding but little known fact that the charity clothing shops are collectively spending over $13 million in tax each year to send what they can’t on-sell to landfill!

There is a whole host of potential solutions to ‘closing-the-loop’ on clothing and textiles that we are seeing globally – like the fibre-fibre recycling being pioneered by the likes of Worn Again UK or the opening up of new markets and business opportunities in the re-sale space by companies like Yerdle – yet Australia has a long way to go before we see any transformation of the current systems for dealing with second-hand clothing. We are going to need infrastructure and systems to manage clothing at end-of-life more efficiently and investment in innovation and new business models to kick-start some new markets and recycled products.

A Blueprint for a Sustainable Fashion Industry is a project proposal I have been working on with two colleagues to engage government, industry and the end-of-life sector in starting to collaborate and find solutions – so fingers crossed we get it up and running to begin this transition towards a better fashion future for Australia.

So, what can brands or consumers do in the meantime? In the ABC article, I suggested lobbying your local government and councils and continuing to share and swap clothes amongst your community.

Image: Recover