4 Ways to Recycle Clothing
If uniform recycling hasn’t already infiltrated conversations at your company, it should be. Sustainability is no longer a “nice to have”, it’s a corporate expectation.
Corporate Australia is becoming more aware of how to recycle clothing and old uniforms, and many are making recycling practices part of their business strategy. And if yours isn’t, perhaps it's time you thought more about it!
How is textile waste recycled?
Textile waste can be recycled in four ways:
- Textile-to-Textile Recycling, or closed loop recycling, involves reprocessing the old uniforms back into fiber. The fiber is used to create the textiles used to recreate the same product, or a product of equal value. This is currently possible with uniforms made from decontaminated 100% cotton, wool or polyester.
- Upcycling is the process of converting textile waste into different products of a higher value. In the context of uniforms, the Australian manufacturing industry has some work to do to make this more commonplace, but there are some interesting products being developed.
- Downcycling is when the recycled end product is lower in quality and functionality than the original one. Mechanically shredding old uniforms for use in another product (e.g. insulation, mattress filling, carpet underlay, dog beds) is downcycling.
- Reuse is a common option, where the uniforms are usually debranded to reduce security risk. The garments can be rebranded, or redistributed into second-hand clothing markets to be given an extended life.
Total Uniform Solutions has been able to recycle clothing and offer debranding solutions to clients since 2020, diverting thousands of kilograms of textile waste from landfill each quarter. Due to the cost benefits in comparison to other processes, our current recycling solution focuses mainly on downcycling and reuse/debranding.
Towards a Circular Economy for Textile Waste
So how do we move from a “downcycling system” to a true “textile recycling” system in the uniform industry? How do we transition to a system in which we can turn garments into fibres, fibres into textiles, and textiles into garments again?
Turning uniforms into uniforms requires a complex process of collection, sorting, cleaning, disassembling and reprocessing. This requires a network of partners, logistics and labor – all of whom need to be remunerated. The reality is that recycling has a cost – and someone needs to be willing to pay it.
The most challenging and costly process is the disassembly of the uniform garment. This consists of removing all hardware (buttons, zippers, clips) and trims (main labels, care and size labels) from existing garments. Only after the disassembly process takes place can the uncontaminated fabric be re-processed into yarns.
Our vision of a uniform-to-uniform economy in which the value of textiles is preserved for the longest possible time without compromising our customer's brand security, health and safety and the product price & quality. Understandably, this is a massive shift for industry to take, and understandably it will take time. However, we’re starting to see signs of things shifting.
“In a properly built circular economy, one should rather focus on avoiding the recycling stage at all costs. It may sound straightforward, but preventing waste from being created in the first place is the only realistic strategy.” – World Economic Forum
We are really energised by the response we’ve had for our recycling service, assisting brands such as The Good Guys, Swinburne University, BESIX Watpac, G8 Education and Harris Farms recycle garments more responsibly. If your business is thinking about recycling old uniforms or textile waste, get in touch for more information.