Loop Upcycling

Giving a second life to corporate textile waste

QUICK FACTS:

  • Australia is the second-highest consumer of textiles in the world

  • Loop Upcycling has saved over 86 tonnes of uniforms from landfill and continue to support over 75+ people experiencing vulnerability through training and employment opportunities.

  • By extending the life of clothing by just nine months, we can reduce carbon, water, and waste footprint by 20-30%.

By now most of us have heard of the massive amounts of textiles we in the developed world send to landfill as a result of fast fashion and overconsumption. But what about textiles used in the corporate sector? Loop Upcycling was founded in 2017 as a sustainable solution to Virgin Australia’s redundant uniforms and has grown into a West Australian circular economy social enterprise and Australia's first corporate upcycling company.

The organisation works with companies to develop unique and innovative programs to deal with redundant uniforms – diverting them from landfills and upcycling them into new, useful products, such as tote bags, duffle bags, hats, backpacks, and much more. Loop supports new migrants and refugees, those in the justice system, living with a disability, suffering from mental illness, victims of domestic violence, the homeless, and older Australians.

We spoke to Lucy Tomassini, Projects and Partnerships Manager at Loop Upcycling about their goal of reducing the 800,000 tonnes of textiles that Australia sends to landfills each year while creating training and employment opportunities for people living with disadvantages.

WHO 

“We work with companies to develop unique and innovative programs to deal with their redundant workwear and materials - diverting them from landfill and upcycling them into new, useful products, in partnership with local, community organisations.”

“Our mission is two-fold: to save the 800,000 tonnes of clothing Australia sends to landfills each year and to support those most in need in our communities through meaningful training and employment opportunities. We support Australian businesses in reducing their environmental impact whilst creating meaningful social impact for those who need it most.”

VISION 

“Loop was founded in 2017 by Perth-based entrepreneur Dwayne Rowland, following a conversation between himself and Virgin Australia’s head of community regarding what to do with the airline’s old staff uniforms. Dwayne set out to solve Virgin’s uniform waste problem by dealing with two issues: the environmental issue of the uniforms, and the social issue around getting vulnerable people into work. The goal was to minimise corporate textile waste while providing training and employment opportunities to people experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage in our communities.”

The problem:  

“Australia is the second-highest consumer of textiles in the world, with Australians discarding close to 800,000 tonnes of clothing and textiles each year, at a rate of 15 tonnes every 10 minutes. Australia has historically lagged behind some other countries in both recognizing and dealing with the textile waste problem. In fact, textiles until very recently weren't even recognised as a waste stream by local or federal governments. People would concentrate on the traditional waste streams of paper, glass, and plastic bottles without understanding that 70% of the world's textiles contain exactly the same chemicals.”

“It is estimated that over 50% of working Australians wear a uniform. These uniforms are typically replaced every 12 months, with high-vis workwear being replaced more often (recommended every 6 months) to meet safety standards. Not to mention the amount of times companies go through a rebrand. Presuming these textiles are tossed in the bin, that's a whole lot of landfill! Currently, businesses in Australia throw away or destroy a mind-blowing amount of uniforms.”

The solution: 

Loop believes that businesses should take responsibility for their textile waste, by considering the afterlife of their workwear and making a commitment to keep as much out of landfills as possible. We understand the concept of upcycling and reuse might be novel to many companies, but we want to encourage businesses to rethink the way they consume and discard, by recognising their redundant workwear as something that still has value and can be repurposed and reused. Studies show that extending the life of clothing by just nine months would already reduce carbon, water, and waste footprint by 20-30%.

HOW 

“We provide companies with a pioneering circular solution to their corporate textile waste through sustainable and practical upcycling programs. Our unique three-stage approach of redistribution, upcycling, and recycling, enables Australian businesses to take ownership of their textile waste and make a meaningful social impact along the way. We encourage them to upcycle their workwear into products that they will use or currently already purchase, such as items for staff or merchandise for events. This not only allows us to help minimise their waste but also their consumption.”

“Once we have confirmed the best repurposing solution for our client, their workwear is then collected and transported to our warehouse to be counted, sorted, cleaned, and prepared for the next stage. Often, we will support companies in setting up collection points within their operations, to collect redundant uniforms which would otherwise be discarded by staff.”

“During the sorting stage, workwear is separated according to the following conditions:  

1. Too-good-to-be-upcycled: workwear that is in great/new condition, where the branding can be easily and securely removed. We can redistribute these back to the company (depending on the branding needs) or we can redistribute them through our network of community organisations and social enterprises. However, we only receive a small amount of workwear that is too good to be upcycled (often due to the issue of de-branding).

2. Fit-to-upcycle: this is the bulk of what we receive and the main service we offer to clients. This material will be upcycled into new items, in partnership with our community partners. Items are then quality checked and returned to the company for them to reuse in whichever way they see fit.

3. Unfit-to-upcycle: material that is too worn/torn/stained to be upcycled. Some clients are happy to use a material that has stains on it, as it adds ‘character’. We ensure we use as much of the usable material as possible. Only material that is completely unusable and scraps left over from the upcycling process will then be recycled.” 

“We can upcycle all sorts of different materials – if we can sew it, we can upcycle it! We mainly upcycle workwear but have also upcycled banner mesh and marquees. We make different items such as duffle bags, tote bags, backpacks, hats, aprons, lunch bags, teddies, and pencil cases and can custom design new products.”

“Throughout the process, we engage people experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage, such as refugees, new migrants, victims of domestic abuse, and people experiencing homelessness. Through our upcycling solutions and partnerships with local community organisations, we provide training, upskilling, and employment programs to those in our community that needs it most. We take a person-centered approach and believe all people have the right to pursue meaningful work.”

RESULTS + BENEFITS 

“Loop has grown exponentially since 2017. We work with businesses in many different industries, such as the mining, engineering, construction, food, government, and healthcare industries. Some of our clients include or have included: Watercorp, Clough, Nandos, Virgin Australia, WA Police, Georgiou, Metronet, Arc Infrastructure, FMG, and many more. We have saved over 86 tonnes of uniforms from landfill and continue to support over 75+ people experiencing vulnerability through training and employment opportunities created by our upcycling programs.” 

“Loop is continuing to see an ever-growing demand, as businesses seek innovative ways to become more environmentally and socially responsible.”

Call To Action

“Join us in building a circular textile economy in Australia whilst supporting those most in need in our communities. If you are a business looking for sustainable solutions to your redundant workwear, get in touch at hello@loop.org.au. Stay in the Loop by following us on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook @loopupcycling.”

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