Is Uniform Recycling Part of Your Business Strategy?

Is Uniform Recycling Part of Your Business Strategy?

Whether your workwear is tattered, damaged beyond repair, no longer complying with safety standards, carries obsolete branding, or the staff member has resigned – the question of responsible uniform disposal is on everyone’s lips. Or at least, it should be!

20 million tonnes of garbage goes into Australian landfill each year. 501,000 tonnes of that are textiles. Australian businesses have a responsibility to consider the “after-life” of the uniforms their workforce consumes and make a commitment to keeping as much of it out of landfill as possible.

recycling uniform guide

How is Australia handling recycling?

Since China (and most of the world) has stopped taking Aussie plastic, aluminium and glass recyclables, we’ve seen an increase in stockpiling recycled items in Australia. There no longer is a guaranteed market for them. How are these stockpiles – and future waste – going to be utilised? It would make sense to use them in innovative manufacturing processes, right? 

There are some companies showing real leadership. Brands like Sheridan who have established collection points at all outlets and encourage customers to recycle unwanted textiles in exchange for new product discounts. Since February 2019 they have collected 11,000kg of preloved bed linen and towels which is turned into recycled yarn that is used to make new products. This process has created a closed-loop system for Sheridan. Genius!

Similarly, ManRags – an online socks and undies brand – has a recycling program for unwanted and odd socks. Customers are asked to purchase compostable satchels to post their socks in to be recycled or reused. With more and more people wanting to be responsible consumers, it's not surprising this initiative has translated into more sales and brand loyalty.

It’s encouraging to see more businesses implementing initiatives that contribute to reducing CO2 emissions, recycling, reducing environmental impacts in the manufacturing process and choosing cleaner forms of energy. And consumers are putting pressure on companies that don’t engage in environmentally sustainable solutions.

Smart businesses, like Sheridan, are going beyond just lip service and implementing recycling programs that are setting the industry standard.

What about recycled clothing?

Plastics, aluminium, glass and paper are well-known recyclable goods. But what about clothing and other textiles? Or more specifically, workwear? How do you recycle old work uniforms?

Ballpark figures suggest that 50% of the Aussie population wear a uniform. On average, uniforms are typically replaced every 12 months. High-vis workwear is often replaced more often (or at least it should be) to maintain safety standards. Presuming these garments are being tossed in the bin, that’s a whole lot of landfill!

At Total Uniform Solutions Group we advocate for sustainability in a number of ways.

  1. Using recycled textiles, where possible, in our custom manufactured apparel.
  2. Manufacture our custom workwear using higher quality and more durable fabrics, increasing the garment’s lifespan and reducing the number of replacements per annum.
  3. Promoting stock products that have a high recycled content to our clients.
  4. Encourage our clients to commercially launder and recycle high ticket uniform items, like blazers and jackets, so they can be reused.
  5. Encouraging our clients to establish a Uniform Recycling program.

Our uniform recycling program helps businesses avoid the significant collection and infrastructure costs of setting up their own textile recycling practices.

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What is textile recycling?

Textile recycling can be defined in a number of ways:

  • Mechanically cutting the garment into rags to be repurposed for third party uses. Padding for chairs, car seats, general vehicle upholstery, carpet underlays, floor matting, insulation, blanks and even cleaning rags all consist of recycled textiles.
  • De-branding and re-distributing the garment into local or international second-hand clothing markets.
  • Mechanically shredding down textile items into a fibrous form. These fibres from recycled textiles can then be turned back into raw materials such as thread.

These methods are a great way to keep unwanted pre and post consumer textiles and apparel out of landfill.

Recycled textile fibres can be used to make products such as recycled yarn and fabric, carpets, carpet underlays, floor matting, insulation and blankets. When a viable market is found for a specific textile fibre, there is no end to innovative uses – gardening gloves, industrial wipes, or the felt used inside tennis balls!

Risks of not disposing uniforms correctly

Beyond the environmental impact, the other consideration is business security. Responsible disposal of uniforms and workwear needs to be considered to avoid the uniforms being re-used inappropriately. Discarded uniforms, used to impersonate your staff and gain unauthorised entry into your business, can not only be a safety risk but can erode the community’s trust in your brand.

To ensure chain of responsibility requirements are met, our textile recycling partners can provide evidence of disposal. These could take the form of a Certificate of Disposal, video or photographic evidence.

The benefits of uniform recycling

Other than the knowledge that your organisation's unused uniforms will bypass landfill, there can be significant long-term benefits to implementing a uniform recycling program. In the case of Sheridan, the brand has engaged their customer base in a way that has created fiercely loyal customers who return, recycle and renew – boosting overall sales and brand loyalty. Given textile recycling is not "mainstream" yet, and the Government does not (yet) subsidise textile recycling practices, the costs involved in setting up a recycling program can be daunting for some businesses. 

We also predict that in the near future, Government tenders will expect more substance behind Australian business’ environmental practices and policies. In particular, they will be looking for your solution to “after life stewardship” of the products.

What does it cost to recycle uniforms?

The cost of recycling is negligible if considered at the front-end of the workwear item’s lifecycle. For many businesses there is little to no consideration for the after-life of the product. When factored into the up-front costs of the uniform items, the recycling cost would equate to a fraction of the price of a zipper!

How to recycle old work uniforms in Australia.

Step 1: Commit to corporate uniform recycling!

Decide that uniform recycling will be mandated in your business. Understand the costs of implementing this program and build this into up-front budgets. Ideally this is done when you are changing uniform providers so the minimal costs can be built into the manufacturing costs.

Step 2: Work out the logistics

Work out the logistics around the collection of old or unwanted branded uniforms. Will staff need to post them in or can you leverage your existing freight infrastructure? Will you set up recycling depots within your business? Find your “change champions' and educate your managers and staff to be responsible for this process. Write the new systems into your company policies. We've included suggestions on how to do this in our Uniform Policy Template – download it today.

Step 3: Work with a textile recycling partner

We’ll work with you to keep unwanted, damaged or commercially obsolete uniforms out of landfill. Depending on the security needs of your business, you may wish to insist on proof of disposal. Working with an expert in textile recycling, you’ll get the most effective strategy for textile recycling for your business.

Step 4: Spread the message!

Communicate your commitment to recycling to your customers and key stakeholders. Be a voice of leadership in your industry and help raise awareness of textile recycling. Set the bar high and encourage others to follow.

Next steps?

So now you know a bit more about workwear recycling. The big question is what are your next steps? How will you recycle your work uniforms? Be proactive and join this movement to reduce landfill and implement initiatives in your business that demonstrate your commitment to sustainability.

Let us share more about recycling your branded uniforms. If you want to talk about implementing a Uniform Recycling program in your business, please get in touch.

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