The fashion industry’s ambitious plan to eliminate clothing waste by 2030

Australians bought an average of 56 new items of clothing per person in 2018-19: 383,000 tonnes in total, and we send over 200,000 tonnes of clothing to landfill every year.

Fast fashion has been accelerating this trend, while recycling textiles, for now, is very expensive.

But in less than a decade, the fashion industry says it could be fully circular – if a just-announced product stewardship scheme goes according to plan.

The Australian Government has a range of product stewardship schemes, developed with industries to lower the effect of certain products on the environment. They’ve made the recycling of mobile phones, batteries and certain types of plastic, for instance, much easier.

The Australian Fashion Council (AFC) has been developing a national product stewardship scheme for clothing textiles over the past year.

The scheme, which has been developed in consultation with businesses and other organisations at each point in the fashion supply chain, will be launched in April.

At a virtual town hall hosted by the AFC on Wednesday, designers of the scheme outlined how fashion could become a fully circular economy by 2030, and decouple its economic growth from resource use.

To achieve this, an organisation will be set up that funds research and development into textile recycling, pilots projects, runs education campaigns, and – the most costly part – provide a rebate for collecting, sorting and reprocessing clothing that’s currently headed to landfill.

This will, theoretically, result in people keeping and using clothes for longer, and fabric becoming a closed loop: where all discarded clothing is reused, repaired or recycled.

The AFC proposal says businesses and brands that opt in to the scheme will contribute four cents for each unit of clothing they import into, or make in, Australia.

“The business who either owns a brand, or has an exclusive relationship with a brand for sale in Australia, is responsible for paying the contribution on the garments contained within that brand,” said Claire Kneller, executive director of sustainability not-for-profit WRAP, which helped design the scheme, at the town hall.

“The contribution applies to garments that the brand owner or licensee procures for sale in Australia, regardless of whether they are actually sold.”

Joining the scheme and contributing will – for now – be voluntary.

“Lots of businesses told us that they would prefer the government to regulate the sector to prevent free riders, and to make it easier for them to join – we’ve obviously taken that feedback on board,” said Kneller.

“We don’t have time to wait for any potential new regulations to come into place. What we are recommending as a consortium is that we crack on, the scheme starts on a voluntary basis, and if as time goes on a compelling case is made to shift that basis to a co-regulatory one, that that’s a process that will happen.”

Consultancy company Sustainable Resource Use’s Peter Allan said that, according to their modelling, with a “moderate” uptake (60% of businesses) they can expect $33 million per year to fund the scheme.

Even a “conservative” scenario, where just 40% of stewards sign on, the scheme will still raise more than $20 million in annual funding.

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