The Australasian Circular Textile Association (ACTA), a receiver of one of the Federal Government's recent National Product Stewardship Investment Fund grants, on building a circular economy for textiles in Australia.
In 2020, Australia's environmental agenda has seen inspiring national leadership. The new Waste and Reduction Recycling bill passed in August establishes national criteria for waste handling; and the award of the Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence and National Product Stewardship Investment Fund (NPSI) will contribute to national environmental reform.
In the recent NPSI program announcements, textiles were the real winner, with three grants approved for major textile-related product categories:
Corporate workwear (led by the Australasian Circular Textile Association)
Mattresses (led by the Australian Bedding Stewardship Council)
Outdoor synthetic textiles (led by the Vinyl Council of Australia)
These three distinct sub-categories of textiles will pioneer a broader industry transition to the circular economy.
The Australasian Circular Textile Association (ACTA) is pleased to have received funding to design its 'Circular Threads: National Uniform and Workwear Stewardship Program', supported by Australia's largest uniform suppliers and users.
The aim of voluntary product stewardship is to engage key product manufacturers to take a collective interest in end-of-life responsibility for their products, utilising their scale to establish viable means of recovery. This will see the Australian textile industry step up as global leaders in the circular economy while creating local opportunities and jobs.
Among the companies ACTA will work closely with are Bisley, an Australian manufacturer and supplier of heavy-duty industrious trade-apparel, and Australia Post.
Owner and director of Bisley, David Gazal, expresses his commitment to long-term positive impact. "Bisley is really excited to be partnering with the ACTA and the Bisley team look forward to collaborating as part of our ongoing commitment to sustainable manufacturing practices".
He went on to say, "We see the future of recycling textiles as a critical component to meet our environmental and sustainable objectives. Our ultimate aim is to work with ACTA, along with Australian recycling companies, to convert used uniforms and workwear into fibres for future Bisley garments. This is a tremendous step towards reducing the amount of landfill generated by apparel and textiles each year — congratulations to ACTA on being granted funding for product stewardship".
Australia Post have sought out solutions in the past to responsibly handle old uniforms. As a national company which oversees various safety requirements in uniforms, Chief Sustainability Officer Susan Mizrahi highlights the importance of textiles recycling to their business.
“Uniforms are an integral part of many business’ operations; they protect our staff and show who we are, and their recycling at the end of their life helps reduce pressure on natural resources,” she says. “Australia Post welcomes the National Product Investment Fund and the opportunity it provides to help develop a recycling industry for textiles in Australia, we look forward to working with ACTA on their program.”
Another grant recipient is the Vinyl Council of Australia, a company that is working with suppliers to ensure all vinyl-related products (coated and uncoated) in Australia will be responsibly disposed of and recycled at the end of their life (to make things like banners flags, linoleum, accessories and furniture).
“The Australian Government has expressed its intent to move towards a circular economy and one that recognises the value and opportunities associated with waste,” the council’s National Product Stewardship Manager, Jan van de Graaff, says. “Effective and well-designed product and industry stewardship schemes have a big role to play in this area, through enhanced design for sustainability, improving the retention of resources within the productive economy and developing systems to capture and recover wastes,” he adds.
The Australian Bedding Stewardship Council will also be expanding its reach as a successful grant recipient, addressing the persistent problem of mattress waste that local governments and charities face. While we know there’s an opportunity to recycle the majority of the components, there’s currently no way to recycle the fabric covers taken from all products.
The same applies to kids’ car seats. In late 2019, Seatcare received recognition from the Federal Government when Environment Minister Sussan Ley proposed child care safety seats become a top priority recoverable waste item removed from landfill. More than 1,400,000 new child car seats are sold annually in Australia, and an estimated 200,000 are disposed of each year, with the majority going to landfill. A lesser component of the product (which mostly can be recycled) is textile.
Asaleocare, another NPSI grant recipient, will be coordinating recycling trials and scheme design for their feminine sanitary items and incontinence pads, each of which contains a form of textile.
The breadth of textiles in use across the country far outweighs the volume of fast fashion consumed and used every year. Through investigative research and analysis, the ACTA suggests current import data of textiles is significantly larger than what is tracked in disposal every year — as much as 50 per cent more than commonly thought — the problem is bigger than what it seems.
As textiles garner more attention, the goal is to further expand local knowledge and expertise to take industry growth to the next level. The Vinyl Council of Australia emphasises the importance of systemic change that will be facilitated by the NSPI grants. “It is great to see the Federal Government actively supporting the Australasian Circular Textiles Association given the strides that they have already taken to date and to foster stewardship of textiles in Australia,” Jan says.
ACTA is the only textile-centric organisation seeking to partner long-term with progressive organisations and the Federal Government in an effort to establish a circular economy, develop engaging global leadership programs, harness emerging technology, nurture future generations and grow audience markets between national cross-sectors.