Circular textiles

As global consumption and waste associated with textiles continues to accelerate, with clothing production more than doubling in the past 15 years while 85% of apparel purchased in Australia is sent directly to landfill at end of life, there are opportunities to ensure clothing, textiles and fibres remain circulating in the economy at their highest value and utility. 

Green Industries SA is working to address how textiles can become more circular through its policy framework, research, investment and programs.

Policy in South Australia

South Australia’s Waste Strategy 2020-2025

Textile waste is identified as a problematic waste in South Australia’s Waste Strategy 2020-25.

Priority actions under the strategy include:

  • supporting investment in textile recovery technology
  • researching opportunities that may reduce the generation of textile waste and increase the recovery of textiles
  • advocating for approaches that motivate individuals to dispose of unwanted textiles in a responsible manner.

Opportunities for circular textiles report

Green Industries SA and Greenaround Consulting have completed a report which examines opportunities for textiles circularity in South Australia. 

This followed stakeholder consultation across the textiles value chain, including producers, users and resource recovery, and describes the opportunities for textiles circularity in South Australia by:

  • investigating South Australia's current capacity to handle and recover textiles, and how/where it can be expanded
  • considering current challenges and barriers for textiles circularity
  • identifying further opportunities and interventions to the current system. 

This work has informed Green Industries SA’s development of immediate term steps that can and will inform future business planning processes and investments undertaken within South Australia. 

Read the report.

Federal policy

The Commonwealth Minister for Environment has listed clothing textiles on the 2023–24 Minister’s product stewardship priority list which identifies products and materials considered to be most in need of a product stewardship approach.

To support this, 'Seamless', a product stewardship scheme for clothing will come into operation in July 2024. Developed by the Australian Fashion Council in collaboration with Charitable Recycling Australia, Queensland University of Technology, Sustainable Resource Use and WRAP, Australia’s first National Clothing Product Stewardship Scheme. It aims to improve the design, recovery, reuse and recycling of textiles in line with National Waste Policy Action Plan targets. The Minister has stated that if the scheme is not delivering results, regulations will be put in place.

Two years in development, the scheme will place a 4 cent levy on all clothing (made locally or imported) put onto the market in Australia. This funding will drive change across a range of areas, from infrastructure to collection systems to education campaigns.


State government uniforms

In mid-2023, GISA convened procurement representatives from selected state government agencies with large uniform requirements, and engaged a consultant to gather data on the material pathway of uniforms within the agencies, including who is buying uniforms, how many are being purchased, how many are in use, how many are surplus, and how and where they are disposed of. The information will be used to identify areas where the government can improve its procurement and sustainability practices and become more circular. A working group has been formed to progress towards more ‘circular’ uniforms in terms of better end of life options, extending the useful life of uniforms, and design and procurement practices which support this.

Circular Impact Accelerator

GISA partnered with Collab4Good and StartSome Good to deliver the Circular Impact Accelerator program in 2022 and 2023. The program supports people with a circular economy idea who are ready to take further action to test, validate and clarify their concept, while also and gaining access to new networks, customers and investment to bring their idea to life. The program culminates in a pitch night and, for those enterprises who are ready, the kick-off of a crowdfunding campaign to get them underway.

A number of participating teams have had a textiles focus:

  • TERRESA provides textile recycling services to South Australian businesses and aims to establish the state's first textile recycling factory by developing a technology capable of breaking down textile blends and re-spinning recycled fibres to create new garments locally.
  • Spinning Tops is a replicable system to centralise and organise the second-hand school uniform marketplace, providing motivational value for donators and convenience for buyers. This will reduce uniform waste to landfill and maximise the items' use.
  • Cinch is developing a series of workshops on sustainability within the textiles industry, focusing on hands-on skill development while learning about the full lifecycle of garments. These fun and interactive classes will be geared towards a variety of audiences to develop individuals’ awareness of the circular economy, the effects of consumer choices, and how small changes can have a positive impact on the environment. Throughout these courses, individuals will have a chance to get involved by learning how to mend, repair or repurpose clothing and other fabrics.

Learn more about the participating teams:

Charitable Sector

The charitable sector plays an important role in the circular economy by reusing, reselling or recycling materials that would otherwise be destined for landfill.

In South Australia, the charitable recycling sector processes 30,614 tonnes of clothing annually, making it one of the key players in textile recycling. The resale and export of used clothing generates more than $52 million in revenue annually, and contributes to environmental savings and job creation.

In recognition of the challenges the charitable sector faces with unusable donated goods and illegal dumping, the Charitable Recyclers Subsidy Program provides partial financial relief to charitable recycling organisations aligned with the solid waste levy. 

National Innovation Games

In May 2022, GISA was a sponsor of the National Innovation Games, held at the Adelaide Town Hall. The focus of the games was ‘A Sustainable Fashion, Clothing and Textile Sector in South Australia’.

Almost 70 businesses, along with policymakers, entrepreneurs and students from around the country participated in the hybrid workshop/online model to tackle various challenges relating to textiles. 

Through a series of professionally facilitated design sprints, more than 15 innovation teams including more than 150 diverse participants from across the complete fashion and textile ecosystem collaborated over 2 days.

The objective of the games was to develop practical, scalable and easily implementable ideas and solutions spanning the product lifecycle, from material selection and design, certification and product sourcing, to manufacturing processes, supply chain management, use behaviours and waste or product end of life.

Give a Sheet for the planet linen drive

GISA has partnered with textile recycling company BlockTexx and 8 metropolitan councils to host a linen drive across metropolitan Adelaide on Saturday 25 May. All South Australian residents are invited to drop off their old and worn bedroom, bathroom and kitchen linens for recycling.

Collected materials will be decommissioned by Bedford SA, shredded, then transported to BlockTexx's state-of-the-art facility in Queensland where they will be broken down into new high-grade recycled materials that can be used by Australian manufacturers to create a range of new products used in construction and agriculture.


Women in Circular Economy

2022 winner: Penelope Morrison – An investigation of European waste textiles sorting facilities and opportunities for South Australia

Education and Community Projects Officer with the Northern Adelaide Waste Management Authority Penelope Morrison was awarded the Green Industries SA Women in Circular Economy Leadership Award in 2022.

Ms Morrison's report explores waste textile sorting methods used in Europe to obtain high quality outputs and the key drivers behind this, and discusses South Australia's position to host a textiles sorting, recovery and recycling hub.

Read the full report

2018 winner: Shani Wood – Opportunities to increase textile resource recovery rates in South Australia

Environmental Officer with the City of Holdfast Bay Shani Wood was awarded the Green Industries SA Women in Circular Economy Leadership Award in 2018.

Ms Wood's report investigates textile recovery practices in Australia, Hong Kong, the UK, and Belgium.

Read the full report