APR. 2, 2019
START-UP LOOKS TO TAKE THE SHIRT OFF YOUR BACK - AND RECYCLE IT
“People have a weird relationship with their clothes; we recycle plastic bottles because you wouldn’t put a plastic bottle in the ocean, you wouldn’t drop one in the street, because we’ve been told they’re bad for the environment,”
Some people are generous enough to give you the shirt off their backs, and an Australian start-up has found a sustainable way to pay that generosity forward by turning that shirt into a range of recycled products.
Start-up firm BlockTexx has been working with researchers from the Queensland University of Technology to create a process that separates the cotton and polyester found in most items of clothing.
They can then repurpose 95 per cent of that raw material into new clothes, as well as a range of other items.
Company founder Graham Ross said about 3 million tonnes of textile waste was dumped in landfill each year, and their method would help reduce that while stimulating the economy.
“Once they come back, the polyester and cotton is broken down to a cellulose powder, and they can be used by either the fashion industry or any industry that uses those raw materials,” Mr Ross said.
“PET (polyethylene terephthalate, from polyester) is used in a range of industries; for example, injection moulding, food containers and drink bottles, outdoor furniture.
“Cellulose, meanwhile, is used as a thickener in paints — you can even find it in toothpaste and some food products.”
Co-founder Adrian Jones is a former fashion company executive who has worked for companies including Myer, Next and Marks & Spencer, and who now finds himself on the other end of the fast fashion trend.
Mr Jones said textile waste was a massive blind spot in the conversation about recycling and sustainability.
“People have a weird relationship with their clothes; we recycle plastic bottles because you wouldn’t put a plastic bottle in the ocean, you wouldn’t drop one in the street, because we’ve been told they’re bad for the environment,” he said.
“People forget that 60 per of the clothes we wear contain plastic, and so we have this guilt-free consumption.”
The company is looking to build a plant in south-east Queensland by the end of this year, where it hopes to employ 45 people processing 33,000 tonnes of textile waste a year.
It’s also partnered with Brisbane Airport Corporation as part of the coming Circular Economy Lab run by the Queensland government as a potential initial source of high-end textile waste.
“You think of an airport, the kilometres of carpets and fabric, not to mention things like linen in planes,” Mr Ross said.
“So we want to talk to them about how they’re using those products, what their reuse process is, and how we might be more efficient with that.”
BAC’s environment and sustainability adviser Andrew Masci said they were looking forward to working out an arrangement with BlockTexx.
“Particularly with the domestic terminal works we’re doing — we recently reacquired the domestic terminal from the individual airlines, and as part of that we're looking at how we can incorporate circular-economy principles into the upgrade,” Mr Masci said.
“There are a few different models for us to do this ... it has to be commercially viable but it’s exciting to see this sort of collaboration.”
Beyond their initial plans for a south-east Queensland facility, BlockTexx says there’s plenty of room for growth, with that region alone producing 70,000 tonnes of textile waste a year.
They are also looking beyond the airport to facilities such as hospitals as a further source of textile waste, as well as the hospitality sector.
“You’ve got a lot of businesses whose only choice is to send things to landfill and they don’t want to do that, and then we have demand from people who want more and more recycled products,” Mr Ross said.
“We’re not trying to go to the moon, we’re just taking waste destined for landfill and creating products that meets the demand locally.”