Apparel production has more than doubled in the last 15 years, yet the average number of wears per garment has reduced by thirty-six per cent (36%).

Despairingly, approximately eighty-five per cent (85%) of apparel is sent to landfill at end of lifeIn order to see a more sustainable apparel industry, textile waste from brands and charities must be redirected with more consideration; either upcycled or recycled to maintain the original value of the materials.

Less than one per cent (1%) of textile waste is recycled in Australia. Typically recycling textiles is a mechanical recycling process, turning garments into stuffing or rags, or, used apparel is often donated to charities and op shops. Second-hand shopping has certainly become increasingly popular and socially acceptable, this alternative shopping method is also accessible to most.

Global Export Market Closed-Down.

Covid-19 has hindered efforts to redistribute used textiles internationally. The UK’s Textile Recycling Association (TRA) reports most of Europe’s used clothing goes to Africa, Pakistan and India. In recent months these channels have been closed either through the direct banning of imports, lockdown measures and the potential of transmitting viral Covid-19 antibodies.

Locally, it is estimated only fifteen per cent (15%) of apparel donated to charity in Australia is suitable for resale in op shops, the remainder is transported offshore and sold internationally. This has come to grinding halt.

Adding further difficulty to forced trade closures, operators advised abiding by physical distancing measures has been difficult. Alongside the expense of providing personal protection equipment (PPE) and other health and safety procedures.

Michal Wheeler, CEO TRA, adds, “if there is no money coming in from the sale of goods because the export markets are closed, then textile collection and sorting businesses are likely to find the introduction of such measures unaffordable.”

“Furthermore, if the issue of safe working practices can be overcome, it is unlikely we will be able to find sufficient storage that would be needed while the international markets remain closed,” he said.

Like many countries in lockdown, it is highly likely people have begun to ‘spring clean’. Sorting and donating can easily lead to unusually high volumes and overflow. Not only for the charities network but also an increase of contamination in council kerbside recycling collections.  

First world countries are feeling the pain.

Pakistan is the single-biggest market for UK exporters of used clothing. Pakistan’s authorities were compelled to enforce tighter inspection regimes on imports, leading to a backlog.

India and Kenya have banned imports of all used clothing until further notice. Citing used clothing as a potential conduit for spreading Covid-19, affecting US exporters. 

Shredded Textiles from second hand clothes

Textile Waste Churned through an Ineffective System.

While this global travesty was unforeseeable, the Covid-19 circumstances have exposed the fraught system of international export. Consequently, an oversupply in developing countries has prompted discussions around banning importation due to its disruptive impact on domestic manufacturing.

Evidently, this reinforces the necessity of a circular textile solution. There are pockets of hope, globally, exploration into recycling innovation is well underway. Technological solutions for fibre-to-fibre recycling are emerging, which are sorely need to fill the current technology gap in a circular economy for textiles. In Australia we have several local enterprises championing the change; Blocktexx, Manrags, Textile Recyclers Australia and of course ACTA.

Additionally, as climate change and net-zero discussions heat up, the conscious consumer is no longer turning a blind eye to unethical practices, and they in fact actively seek sustainable apparel – fifty-three per cent (53%) of Australian shoppers nominated they would pay more for ethical and sustainable products.

Textiles are invaluable to modern society, it is ACTA’s stance to address used textiles, through upcycling and recycling. A well managed system we can reduce textile waste, C02 emissions and reduce climate impact. 

Now is the time to establish extended producer responsibility and best practice. This mission extends beyond just fashion.


Author ACTA intern Isabella Krebet (RMIT Journalism Student)