THE TEXTILE RECYCLING PROBLEM
In Australia, the extent and management of textile waste is a serious problem that often seems unsolvable. But, with more conscious consumption and improved recycling systems, it is possible to significantly reduce Australia’s textile waste. We recently sat down with The Age/Sydney Morning Herald to talk about our Re-Loop program at Loop Home, where we hope to play a part in industry change and make it easy for our customers to do the right thing.
From a consumer point of view, it can be hard to see the extent of the textile problem, but the 2020 National Waste Report helps bring it into perspective. It found that in 2018-19 an estimated 780 000 tonnes of textile waste was generated, and only 7% of this was recycled. From an individual level, it’s estimated that the average Australian buys 27 kilograms of new clothing and discards 23 kilograms to landfill every single year. Without a doubt, these numbers are pretty bleak, but there are things that can be done by individuals, companies and the government.
On a company level, we at Loop Home make all our products with GOTS certified organic cotton (CU1133274) and design them to last many years. And to ensure you can still get variety without having to buy more products, all of our quilt covers are reversible. When you do eventually want to replace our products, our Re-Loop recycling program allows customers to return their Loop Home products and get 8% of their original purchase price back as a credit. These textiles are then mechanically recycled, made into new products and sold again through Re-Loop.
There are two primary ways to recycle textiles in Australia, but we’ve chosen mechanical recycling due to the fact that no harsh chemicals are used throughout the process. To recycle in this way, waste fabrics are shredded back into separate fibres that can be spun into yarn and reused. They still need to be woven with virgin fibres to ensure a strong weave and longevity of the product, but this is still much better than using 100% virgin fibres.
The other system used to recycle textiles in Australia is chemical recycling. Chemicals dissolve the fabric fibres into a solvent form to either make newer fibres or extract a certain compound. The resulting fibres are usually the same quality as their virgin counterparts, but the use of harsh chemicals and need for strict conditions make this the less appealing option for us and many others.
As we can see from the earlier mentioned recycling statistics, neither of these systems are used nearly as much as they need to be. But we as consumers can play a role in increasing their use and improving Australia’s waste problem through conscious consumption. By changing our mentality around fast consumption to instead buy fewer, better-quality products that we’ll use for years on end, we can significantly reduce the number of textiles that end up in landfill. Choosing products that are designed to have multiple uses or styles can be a great way to avoid buying more than we need. We can also encourage more investment into developing new materials and better recycling systems by supporting companies that are doing the right thing.
So, while the state of textile recycling in Australia doesn’t look great at the moment, we do have the ability to improve. More and more companies are changing their ways and better technologies are being developed every day. By showing other companies what is possible, and educating consumers on what they can do, we hope we can help fast track this change.