A national clothing take-back scheme in a country of around 25 million people would help to avoid disruption to the fashion industry caused by mandatory regulations, according to founder of the Australasian Circular Textile Association, Camille Reed.

Discussion of a potential nationwide clothing and textile take-back scheme in Australis was a key theme of the recent Australian Circular Fashion Conference, ina country which Reed says discard six tonnes of apparel and textile waste every 10 minuets. This major focus of the event’s second edition was supported by a four-phase plan set out to make the idea feasible. The organisers pointed to waste cries unfolding in other industries such as electronics, where governments have enforced mandatory schemes that are hugely disruptive and come with considerable cost to these industries. “It’s only a matter of time before this happens in fashion, considering the industry accounts for ten per cent of the world’s total carbon emissions,” said Reed, who went on to say that “Australia is the second largest consumer of apparel per capita next to North America.”

It’s thought that by being on the ‘front foot’ the industry can collaboratively agree on how such a scheme is developed and rolled out. “This will have great benefits to retailers, including an opportunity to recycle their stock and free up warehouse space, driving foot traffic back in-store, connecting with a new eco-conscious market, and leveraging a new sustainability message with consumers,” she explained.


Outback take-back

Phase one of the take-back plan would be to establish a collection system or drop-off point for fashion retailers and the industry at large to recycle their dead stock.
This would be followed by a second phase working with businesses to develop the scheme – with a proposed pilot in the states of Victoria and New South Wales – to ensure that all brands are held to the same standards when it comes to recycling stock. The organisers say this will involve partnering with shopping centres and individual tenants to place drop off bins for consumers to use.
A third phase would see stock being taken to a recycling facility, where the fabric content will be assessed – as either suitable to be treated through an ‘open’ or ‘closed’ loop process.
Finally, in phase four, if the fibres are suitable for a closed loop system, in the case of synthetics, they could then be turned back into the original polymers and sold to be transformed into new plastic products for a range of other industries.

Speaking to Ecotextile News, Camille Reed said that the take-back scheme “will be run by the new industry body, the Australasian Circular Textile Association (ACTA). It will be a paid for scheme by brands and retailers.” She continues: “There will be a certain amount of commission involved for ACTA, also ensuring each third party involved in the reverse supply chain is profitable.”
In terms of potential involvement numbers, she speculated: “For the first five years, we’ll be focussing on New South Wales and Victoria and anticipate capturing 25 per cent market share of fashion brands and retailers at a conservative estimate. This equates to approximately 120 businesses.”

But how can businesses be encouraged to collaborate when they are competitors? “We don’t see anyone who is a potential solution provider as a competitor, our advantage is the credability built within the local market following the conference and that we’re the only industry body seen as the facilitator and aggregator,” Reed said.
She added: ” ACTA enables the recycling, re-processing and even the manufacturing industries to benefit from the monetisation of textile waste. Every stakeholder in the fashion industry has a role to play and there’s motivation at every stage.
“We’re in a terrific position to be considering a nationwide textile take-back programme as a number of the largest brands and retailers we’re spoken with including The Iconic, Cue Clothing, Cotton-On, General Pants Co, Hotsprings, Best & Less and many more, are in support to see a solution come through right away.

“Our local fashion market is made up of SME’s, multinationals, wholesalers, retailers and online providers, out of which I would say 90 per cent would want to understand how the textile take-back would work in their best interest, 80 per cent would sign a letter of intent to support and engage with large scale operations– providing it words for them financially – and 25 per cent would directly get involved within the first 6-12 months.”

Reed also told us about how textiles and clothing that are blends of synthetic and natural fibres can be dealt with. “Through thermo and chemical recycling we can separate natural and synthetic fibres, capture the value of each raw material and look to reprocess it in a new product.”
“While there is a lot of focus on closing the loop, we also have tremendous opportunity to supply various other industries who rely upon polyester, for example, in their product. This is often referred to as open loop. An open market for treating recovered and recycled resources in the earlier stages is far more valuable than closed loop,” she added.

“Risk mitigation is taken very seriously by industry, new policy and regulations are foreseeable within five years.”

Reed concluded by telling us that she plans to kick off the initiative as soon as possible. “We’ve already begun liasing with potential solution providers and those who are looking to come on-boad as such.
“The bulk of Association’s time will be spent of the implementation and development behind a national take-back service, while focussing on roll-out with a small number of brands and retailers in the first 6-8 months.’

The two-day event ran in Melbourne from 21-22 March, 2019, and attracted speakers from around the world. It aimed to provide a new opportunity to tackle the issue of fashion and textile waste head on, with input and support from leading Australian and international brands such as Mara Hoffman, Eileen Fisher, Filippa K, Australia Post and Kathmandu.



This article originally appeard in Ecotextile News ~ April/May 2019, Issue 90