Fashion

Could this scheme be a game-changing direction in sustainable fashion?

As Australians become more aware of and vocal about the impact of discarded textiles on the environment, it is hoped a new scheme will "disrupt" the cycle of clothing waste.

The recently-created Australian Circular Textile Association will launch a national "clothing take-back scheme" to try to boost the sustainability of fashion.

Australian Circular Textile Association, founder, Camille Reed.

The association's founder, Camille Reed, a textile fashion designer-turned entrepreneur, says Australians are the second largest consumer of textiles, per capita, in the world.

We buy approximately 27 kilograms of new clothing and textiles a year each, generating an "unmanageable" excess of waste product.

Under the take-back scheme, consumers will be able to drop off old garments at participating stores or charity collection points; the clothing will be dispatched to a "recycle, reprocess and redistribution" process, in which recyclable materials will be extracted.

The scheme which will commence in September with a pilot program is one of the first of its kind in the world to be implemented nationally. Conversations around its logistics will take place in this week in Melbourne, at the second Australian Circular Fashion Conference.

Charities spend around $13 million a year disposing of 60,000 tonnes of unusable donations, much of it going to waste.

Reed's "take back" program has been welcomed by sustainability groups such as the National Association of Charitable Recycling Organisations (NACRO), whose CEO, Omer Soker, says we are at a "tipping point" in terms of managing textile waste.

“Charities are very appreciative of all donations that are coming and they still want them for the money to go back into social welfare programs and the environment. But the amount of the clothing that goes to textile waste that is going into landfill is just unmanageable. It is really a shame,” he said.

According to Soker, charities alone spend around $13 million a year disposing of 60,000 tonnes of unusable donations, much of it going to waste.

Camille Reed said working with a sustainability team at her previous workplace, Forever New, helped her to understand the "grand scale" of textile waste in Australia.

She describes the Australian fashion industry as being at a pivotal “adapt or die” moment in terms of sustainability and says it needs to change its attitude to waste as it did to its attitude to exploited human labor.

“Both are part of a holistic cycle, those two issues have to marry up. The way ethics made a disruption to fashion and the industry had to step up to the mark, the environment is now that catalyst for disruption. We are at a point of inquisition, inquiry and transparency [for sustainability]."

Reed stresses that for initiatives such as the take-back scheme to be successful, consumers and brands will need to take responsibility for their habitual practices.

“It's a two sided game, no one side has more responsbility than the other. The customer has to be a little more aware and asking better questions of themselves as well as the industry … We should be past the blame and shame game," she said, and it was time producers and buyers examined their behaviour.

Omer Soker said he hoped both suppliers and buyers would opt for higher quality products that lasted longer, rather than continuing to consumed "faster landfill fashion".

“These products are built to obsolescence. So I would always advocate for quality garments even if it means that are somewhat more expensive because the value remains in the garment by giving it a second life or to the proposed take-back scheme,” Soker said.

Reed hopes increased focus on the toll of waste fashion on the environment will prompt consumers to turn more towards more durable items. Her advice to environmentally conscious followers of fashion is: “Buy something high quality and favour that piece.”

For more information on the take-back scheme visit: https://www.australiancircularfashion.com.au/

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