Textile Recycling – Does your business have a Textile Waste Management Plan?

Textile Recycling – Does your business have a Textile Waste Management Plan?

BlockTexx is a clean technology company that recovers polyester and cellulose from textiles and clothing. Its mission is to divert textiles and clothing away from landfill and accelerate the global textile recycling industry towards a sustainable future. Textile Image Magazine caught up with founders Graham Ross and Adrian Jones to understand more about the opportunities for textile printers.

What is the size of the textile waste problem in Australia?

GR: It's estimated that approximately one million tonnes of textiles are sent to landfill (Australasian Circular Textile Association). 88 per cent of apparel purchased in Australia is sent directly to landfill at its end of life (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Towards the Australian Environmental-Economic Accounts: Waste)

In 2015, at COP21 in Paris, most nations agreed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – this is now known as the Paris Agreement.

Textile recycling is in its infancy in Australia. What is the current status?

GR: Recycling comprises reselling, ragging or export. There is some artisanal upcycling, but there is no commercial-scale textile recycling process currently in Australia.

And from a legislative perspective?

GR: Textile waste management has always been the poor cousin when it comes to legislation. We have a National Waste Policy for glass, cardboard, paper and plastics, but not textiles, even though they are comprised of the same materials as plastic bottles. This year for the first time, Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley announced that clothing textiles would be included in the product stewardship priority list, with a financial commitment of up to $1 million in funding to support product stewardship efforts. Unfortunately, Australia has a history of sitting back and hoping things will change. We must be proactive and change the model before it is forced on us, particularly as our overseas neighbours are taking less and less of our textile waste. "Clothing charities can be a great place to thrift shop, but they are not the place to send our tatty, pre-loved clothes that are barely hanging by a thread, and no amount of wishcycling will change that." Sussan Ley, Minister for the Environment

Are you modelling the factory on facilities that you have seen overseas?

AJ: BlockTexx will be commissioning a textile recovery facility during Q1, 2022 and fully operational by Q2, 2022. Stage 1 will process 3,800tpa scaling to 10,000tpa in stage 2. The second plant will be online in 2024. The facility has been designed from the ground up, drawing insights from industries such as craft brewing who use reactors and commercial laundries that recirculate liquids, recover energy heat, and move wet materials around.

BlockTexx owns proprietary technology that separates polyester and cotton materials such as clothes, sheets and towels of any colour or condition back into their high-value raw materials of PET and Cellulose for reuse as new products for all industries.

The recovered PET is polymerised to create virgin-quality S.O.F.T. branded rPET plastic pellets and polyester fibre suitable for use in textiles, packaging, building products.

The recovered cellulose is processed to create S.O.F.T. branded cellulose powder for use in many industries such as textile, pharmaceutical and food.

Why is it important for textile printers to have a waste management plan?

AJ: Looking overseas, we are seeing product stewardship schemes being introduced in countries such as Sweden, UK, and France. Establishing systems that track textiles sent to landfill is being mandated. There is considerable interest from governments and consumers to reduce landfill and divert unwanted textiles into recycling processes. From a commercial perspective, we are seeing tenders that require suppliers to provide end of life solutions that are not landfill, which invariably means your competitors will have waste management plans. Your carbon footprint has an economic value, and business sustainability targets can be measured. For every kilogram of textiles BlockTexx processes, the company abates 30kg of CO2 equivalents. While Australian companies are not legally required to offset carbon emissions, many companies are voluntarily investing in activities to offset emissions.

What does a good waste management plan include?

• A commitment to not sending waste to landfill and admitting that you can't ignore the impact due to limited solutions.

• The tracking of volumes, materials composition and recycling pathways aligned to material composition and focussed on upcycling as much as possible.

• Arrangements with suppliers to take back unwanted textiles/materials.

• Takeback schemes for customers.

• Review of current supply chain procurement - what can be recycled?

• Review of production processes - what creates the waste?

• Review of printing processes - what prevents recycling?

• Statement to customers on recycling plan and goals over a period of time and one that promotes the achievements.

• Develop relationships for end of life solutions and invest in them.

How does the BlockTexx solution apply to textile printers?

GR: BlockTexx has targeted the S.O.F.T. (separation of fibre technology) process at industry sectors with limited recycling or recovery processes which means their end of life solutions are landfill. These supply partners are commercial textiles such as laundries, hospitals and hotels (approx. 50 per cent of the Australian market) and workwear companies (approx. 45 per cent of the Australian market).

Textile printers face similar problems to our commercial supply partners, including limited options for end-of-life materials except for landfill. Still, they must begin to organise themselves and be proactive in finding or developing solutions to recycle waste. This includes aggregating, sorting and collecting materials in fabric types to move into the correct recycling solution. AFI Branding is one of our partners and has taken the lead in this space by developing a take-back scheme for all of their printed soft signage.

The two areas that impact printed textiles are manufacturing/dyeing (material quality, damage from dyeing) and product life cycle (how it was used). Low-quality materials and damage from dyeing techniques can hamper or prevent recycling processes. All textile materials have incurred life usage impacts - washing, chemicals, use and UV light; all can degrade the quality of the textiles, which has a significant impact on the recovery success and options.

Textile printers also need to be conscious of their product selection regarding what is added to the material, such as coatings designed to enhance performance. When it comes to apparel, we need to design products for end of life by excluding items such as metal studs and nylon trims.

We need to accept that the actual cost of a product is not just the first cost, i.e. what you pay for it when you buy it, but the total life cycle cost of the product. We accept that there is a cost to recycling tires, batteries, mobile phones and plastic bottles; we also need to accept that there is also a cost of recycling textiles.

Where to from here?

AJ: Firstly, the industry needs to align and retool itself, which takes time. Tackling issues such as:

• How do we work upstream with suppliers to design for end of life?

• How do we manage the logistics of textile collection, separating and sorting?

• How do we educate customers about the impact their choices are having on the environment?

BlockTexx role is to recycle textiles, not retool an industry. At the end of the day, for an industry to change, it starts with each individual business.

One of the challenges with the circular economy discussion is that it becomes just that; circular, and it becomes too overwhelming. In our experience, you need to define the problem and then make small changes regularly. Including your team makes it top of mind for everyone and a shared focus and responsibility.

8 Textile Recycling Questions

1. What waste do I have?

2. How much waste do I have per week/month?

3. What is it made of?

4. Can it be recycled?

5. What's been added/done to the material?

6. What's been its life usage? Has it been indoor or outdoors?

7. Where is it located?

8. Has it been sorted?

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