While ACTA undertakes Australia’s largest textile data-set to model textile waste flows, we explore how several local businesses’ are tackling closing the loop, and working to improve ‘one product at a time’ in the textile sector.
In Victoria, post-industrial sources account for 68% of all textile waste. Post-industrial textile is pretty well every other textile product which is not fashion or a textile found in the home. To draw a parallel, in NSW apparel equates to 4-6% of domestic waste.
Review ACTA’s ‘A Circular Economy for the Apparel & Textile Sector’ Position Paper here.
Focus Banners (FB), an agile company with a core focus on producing fabric banners; outdoor polyester mesh for events and crowd control barrier covers, including indoor media walls and huge hanging banners.
Within a couple of years of establishing (2015), and after splitting from a much larger industrial company, Bannerloop was introduced; a take-back service for FB used products. A play on words to closing the loop, Banner-’loop’ looks to address one of the biggest problems in the banners/flags industry – extended producer responsibility (EPR) – taking into consideration life cycle impacts, plus the flows and fates of products or materials. EPR, by definition, may involve business, governments and consumers sharing responsibility.
EPR is also often referred to as product stewardship. Product stewardship is a demonstrated means to improve end of life outcomes for eligible products, the next step is closing the loop on textiles for all sectors. It is identified as a key driver to deliver targets outlined in the Australian 2018 National Waste Policy and Action Plan – where textiles are flagged as a key focus.
Currently, the majority of banners/flags produced in Australia (for indoor or outdoor use) have a very short intended lifespan. Marketing, advertising, campaigns, sales etc are displayed for a matter of weeks. Most often these visual displays are collected and sent to landfill. Well not anymore. Bannerloop is here to service the banner and flag industry.
The Bannerloop take-back system oversees transportation, collating textile as a waste feedstock, and delivering to recyclers. Given this particular polyester textile stream is consistent and a reliable source of material, it can more easily be recycled and turned back into the material’s original form, a polyester polymer. Recycled polyester is referred to as ‘rPET’ pellets. As a reprocessed material rPET can be used to make new polyester yarn. Recycled polyester fabric looks and feels identical to virgin Poly, there are no differences in the materials. rPET is an extremely versatile material, it can be transformed into a variety of products, not just new textiles/fabrics. We refer to this as an open-loop system.
Bannerloop’s take-back service is nationwide, it’s important to note the additional freight does slightly increase the carbon footprint. To offset the transportation footprint, Bannerloop weighs returned banners and calculates the distance to determine a carbon-offset amount.
Fortunately, innovative companies like Southpole offset the operation with carbon credits. Southpole has hundreds of different types of emission reduction projects covering the following areas: Forestry and conservation, renewable energy, community projects, and waste-to-energy.
Marcus Bowden, Business Development Manager at Focus Banners, told ACTA it’s taken two years to kickstart Bannerloop’s operations, emphasising systemic change is needed.
“A change in business will influence a change in consumer habits as well.”
Fellow Melbourian banner and flag company, AFI Branding rolled out a national take-back program mid 2019 for customers. AFI prints more than 15,000m² of polyester coated fabric a month. AFI are innovators, recognising extended producer responsibility must be accounted for in daily business operations – a must-have, not a nice to have.
Planning ahead, AFI has partnered with Queensland based textile recycling startup BlockTexx. This is where the magic happens. Through AFI’s textile recovery system, clients return used printed product for sorting. Next step, sending the bulk waste to BlockTexx, where the textiles are chemically broken down to reprocess the polyester fibres. In order to recycle used textiles, BlockTexx relies on its S.O.F.T™ process. Not only can BlockTexx recycle 100% polyester, but the S.O.F.T™ process also has the ability to separate cotton and polyester blended fibres.
As previously mentioned, rPET pellets can be used in textiles, packaging, bottles, building products, plus much more. Recycled cotton fibres processed by Blocktexx are turned into powdered cellulose (an organic compound found in plant cells) for potential use in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and food products. The exploration into potential end markets for rPET and recycled cotton are evolving quickly.
The partnership and investment with Blocktexx is a long term commitment to demonstrate the important efforts where private enterprises believe in and back a long term solution.
AFI Branding has tested 100% recycled poly-coated fabric suitable for banner and flag printing. In 2018 The Australian Circular Fashion Conference printed several three metre long banners on 100% recycled polyester material.
EEAA ~ Creating Sustainable Events
The Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia (EEAA) has also started to hone in on positive environmental practices. The EEAA is the peak industry body for expos, trade shows, conferences and similarly large scale events. AFI Branding is a member working closely with the EEAA in their sustainability goals.
In 2018, during the EEAA’s own annual conference, they announced and established a commitment to enhance the industry’s environmental best practice and develop a sustainability charter.
Taking it to the next level, in 2019 the EEAA ran a Young Stars Sustainability Forum. This event gave young professionals (members of the association) the ability to provide face-to-face feedback on the sustainability charter. The goal was to connect junior and senior levels of management in pursuit of positive action. ACTA is a strong believer in senior business leaders recognising the importance of sustainable business practices, this will ensure a company’s mission and vision is filtered through an entire business. Decisive action more-often comes from top-down.
Upon further consultation to implement the sustainability charter the EEAA engaged Sydney based agency Edge Environment, the next phase included members participation. Several collaborative workshops were run with members in order to roll out a national framework – only then could the association and members cohesively nominate milestones and pathways for all to follow to achieve sustainable action. This is a one to many approach, to strengthen collaboration in closing the loop one product at a time.
A big push across the industry.
In 2019, Tourism Australia stepped up, announcing the 12 month ‘Champions of Sustainability’ program, followed by the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre’s CEO, Leighton Wood, (EEAA Sustainability Working Group Chair and EEAA Board member) presenting a road map for the events space.
Together, the ‘Champions of Sustainability’ program and road map clearly prioritise best practice benchmarking. These activities came as a result of critical collaborative efforts across normally competitive private organisations, education, and measuring progress.
We speak of these businesses because they are a prime example of industry leadership and a great example in productivity through a proactive response to textile waste management. Following these steps, we can strive to educate, empower, and coordinate more industry movements for the sake of the environment.
Author ACTA intern Isabella Krebet (RMIT Journalism Student)