CIRCULAR THREADS | By Edge Environment’s Blake Lindley
The Circular Threads movement was catalysed by Edge Environment working through the New South Wales (NSW) EPA’s Waste Less Recycle More’s Circulate program.
The Circulate program aimed to deliver industrial ecology solutions to divert 160,000 tonne of waste to landfill by engaging 1000 medium to large enterprises and generating $21 million in additional income and/or savings for those involved between 2014 and 2017.
The Circular Threads network comprises of key stakeholders across the corporate uniform value chain; textile manufacturers, clothing factories, importers, users and recovery agents for recycling. Among others, the scheme has involved Workwear Group, Bunnings, Australia Post, KFC, Westpac, Virgin Australia and Textile Recyclers Australia to date.
The program is setting out to identify the motivations and understand what the stakeholders’ motivations and current practices; how industry procures uniforms, preferences for their construction, existing initiatives and models for product stewardship.
As a component of all waste, textiles make up approximately 1.5% of household waste and 4% of commercial and industrial (C&I) waste. Textile waste can include clothes, carpets, curtains, leather furniture and soft toys and the relative contributions of household and C&I wastes is outlined in the table below (Figure.1)
Textile import data shows that 64% of textiles in Australia are synthetic (PCI Fibres, 2015). However, the respective quantities of pre-consumer and post-consumer textiles waste are uncertain in existing literature. The pre-consumer waste can include offcuts in the manufacturing processes as well as unsold or obsolete product which has not transacted to the consumer.
Further, it is estimated that corporate uniforms could represent a significant proportion of textile waste to landfill at approximately 5,000-10,000 tonnes per year in Australia. 9.5 million people work as employees in Australia (ABS, 2016) and employment sectors which wear uniforms are widespread and include healthcare, police, retail trade, manufacturing, food service, accommodation, mining, construction, logistics and postal. Table 1 provides an estimate of those portions of the workforce likely to wear uniforms.
The uniform wearing employment sectors in represent approximately 6.4 million people; assuming that 75% of those sectors wear uniform this would represent approximately 4.8 million uniform wearing people; representing 50% of employees Australia wide. Using a crude estimate of every person employed in a uniform wearing sector having 1-2 kg per year of textile representing their corporate uniform, it can be estimated there is approximately 4,800 – 9,600 tonnes of textiles in corporate uniforms waste annually.
“We see textiles (particularly synthetic) as potentially having both a high value & high availability for recycling.”
The Circular Threads program is developing a collective of large industry and uniform providers wanting to take action on textile waste to align supply and procurement with environmental objectives and aligning industry activity toward a common objective. Edge’s expertise is in mapping the industrial ecology and materials flows of economies to identify opportunities for by-product exchange.
We see textiles (particular synthetic) as potentially having both a high value and high availability for recycling into new plastic products and are exploring opportunities for textile waste as an input in various high-volume products.
Edge continues to work with Textile Recyclers Australia to develop feasible and long-term solutions to textile waste to service both post-consumer and post-industrial wastes.
ABS, 2016. Characteristics of Employment, Australia, August 2015. [Online]
Commonwealth of Australia, 2006. Approved Occupational Clothing Guidelines , Melbourne : AusIndustry .
Commonwealth of Australia, 2010. National Waste Report 2010, Canberra: Department of Environment.
De Silva, Wang & Byrne, 2014. Recycling textiles: the use of ionic liquids in the separation of cotton polyester blends. Royal Society of Chemistry, pp. 29094-29098.
Ellen Macarthur Foundation , 2015. CE100. [Online]