A regional New South Wales council has been overwhelmed by donations as it joins the “next clear frontier” of Australia’s waste crisis — the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of unwanted textiles thrown out each year.
- Australians throw out hundreds of tonnes of textiles, including clothing, every year
- Bathurst council’s trial recycling program has been a resounding success, recycling 1,600kg of textiles in the first month
- Companies are finding new ways to reuse fibres—including as new fabrics and materials
The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that about 800,000 tonnes of textile, leather and rubber waste was discarded in the 2018-19 financial year, with a little less than 75 per cent sent directly to landfill.
Bathurst Regional Council waste management coordinator Ray Trevorah is determined to solve the problem.
“Residents have been doing the good thing, sending them to op shops,” he said.
“But with COVID restrictions, and increasing amounts of clothing waste, we are seeing more and more of that material ending up in people’s kerbside bins or ending up in the pit, decomposing in landfill, which has been contributing to council’s, and everyone’s, emissions.”
The council partnered with Sydney-based company Textile Recyclers Australia (TRA) to offer a three-month clothing recycling trial, in what is believed to be a first for regional NSW.
“It seems to be going very well, with a large uptake from the community, with more than 1,600 kilos of textiles recycled in the first month of the trial,” Dr Trevorah said.
Cheap to buy, easy to chuck
The unwanted textiles are reused in three ways—as clothing in developing nations; cut up for rags and cleaning uses; and innovatively, broken down into fibres, for re-creation into entirely new fabrics, for bags, tea towels and t-shirts.
The majority of the clothing has come from the community, but the Bathurst Community Op Shop has also used the bins to move unwanted items.
Volunteer Moira Spinazza said blankets and pillow cases were given to local vets for animals, but there were still “tonnes” of unwanted textiles.
“We try and utilise as much as we can, without putting it into landfill,” she said.
Ms Spinazza blamed fast fashion for the proliferation.
“It’s too easy to get rid of,” she said.
“It’s too cheap to buy, and too easy to just throw out.
‘High value raw materials’
TRA is among a handful of companies finding solutions to the textile waste problem.
Others include Sydney-based Blocktexx, which believed it was one of only three companies globally to find a way to chemically break clothing down into its “building blocks”.
“Bed sheets, or work shirts, or football uniforms … through a chemical process we separate those back into polyester, and cellulose, which can both be reused as high value, raw materials back into other industries,” Adrian Jones, co-founder of Blocktexx, said.
The company has patented its technology, and will begin constructing a facility to handle industrial quantities of textiles near Brisbane, later this year.
Mr Jones said more than 30,000 tonnes had already been committed, and the new plant will be able to process 3,800 tonnes a year initially, and up to 10,000 tonnes a year long-term.
“We’ve already sold the output, two or three times over, because people want to use it locally, into injection moulding, into building materials,” he said.
Mr Jones anticipated a future export business where the recycled polyester could be made back into fibres and returned into the spinning industry.
“There’s no spinning industry onshore in Australia, but in time that can build,” Mr Jones said.
“We came into this business in our 50s, because we wanted to leave a legacy — we wanted to actually make some real change and we could understand the damage the textile industry was doing to the world.
Back in Bathurst, Dr Trevorah agreed that the burgeoning industry represented an opportunity.
“Textile recycling … has been largely untapped,” he said.
“We are presented here with a great opportunity to help invest in our future.”
No firm decision has been made yet, but the council trial is expected to continue beyond March.