To combat the country’s 260,000-tonne-a-year fashion waste problem, lingerie company Very Good Bra has launched a campaign to improve natural garment recycling practices.
According to a report by the Australian Fashion Council (AFC) published last May, Australians buy 14.8kg of clothing, or 56 new items, annually, making the country one of the highest consumers of textiles per capita in the world.
Not only this, but there are 1.42bn garments – amounting to 373,000 tonnes of fabric – arriving in Australia each year, almost 70% of which (roughly 260,000 tonnes or 10kg a person) ends up in landfill.
‘And in addition, all that we export, which is around four kilos per person, eventually reaches the same end of life,’ said lead author Peter Allan at the time.
‘The industry has a deserved reputation for its negative impact on the environment,’ seconded AFC’s chief executive Naja Hibri, stressing the need for a shift in how Australia designs, produces, uses, and disposes of products.
Currently, two-thirds of Australian clothing is made up of synthetic fibres, which are often derived from petroleum, a non-renewable resource that’s driving global warming.
Seeking to combat this significant waste problem and offer an eco-friendly solution is lingerie company Very Good Bra, which has launched a campaign to improve natural garment recycling practices across the country. As a result, Australians could be the first people on the planet to confidently compost their worn out clothing.
But what does it entail? For the last 18 months, founder Stephanie Devine has worked with sustainability experts and academics to create a technical specification for Standards Australia.
Accepted in March, the proposal will see a new standard set for composting nationwide, requiring manufacturers to guarantee their products will compost safely.
To meet the basic parameters, they will have to use a certain level of natural fibres and rubbers – including in the threads, labels, and elastic – as well as certified organic dyes, and easily removable clasps.
‘We don’t really want poly-cotton or polyester labels or threads in the compost,’ says associate professor in soil systems at the University of New England, Oliver Knox, who explains that commercial composters will reject items if they are deemed hazardous.
‘Even if they do work their way through the system, they’ll end up basically creating contaminants, micro-plastics and the like.’
Standards Australia will now enter into a development phase, to determine a criteria that won’t drastically affect textile quality.
In order for the circular initiative to succeed, Devine says that brands must actively participate in ascertaining how to qualify, then set up take-back schemes to generate pathways from customer to composter.
Her hope is that, when all avenues for recycling and reuse have been exhausted, this will mean that people can have the confidence to compost garments in their own gardens.
‘We don’t need any major technology breakthroughs to compost textiles or heaps of investment and infrastructure especially given the rise of [organic waste bins] across city councils,’ says Courtney Holm of A.BCH.
‘While composting is lower priority to say reuse, repair, and remanufacture from a waste hierarchy perspective – it is the most important consideration, given how it affects the planet.’