Ecotextile News

David Styles

JUL. 18, 2019

THE RECYCLING REVOLUTIONARIES

"While countless industry executives will continue to cite the circular economy in conference speeches, it is the work of companies such as BlockTexx which is transforming that rhetoric from hollow green wash into a viable solution."

There has been an explosion of interest in textile recycling of late. At the epicentre of this are Graham Ross and Adrian Jones, the duo behind Australian firm BlockTexx. Ecotextile News spoke to them in the midst of a very busy 2019.

Since Ecotextile News first reported on BlockTexx in August 2018, the company’s rise has been nothing short of remarkable. At that time, Ross warned: “Australia and New Zealand, like the rest of the world, face enormous challenges to address the textile waste created by fast fashion.” Remedying this has been the pair’s focus since founding the company, and they certainly don’t appear to be waiting for an invitation. A BlockTexx statement made earlier this year outlined its aim to significantly scale up its work in separating and recovering the environmental and economic value of textile fibres.

This, BlockTexx hopes, will be possible on an ever-increasing scale courtesy of its proprietary S.O.F.T. (Separation of fibre technology).
It seems a consensus has been reached in the sector that downcycling cannot be the predominant option after a garment’s initial use phase, and it is innovative firms such as BlockTexx that are edging an alternative vision closer to reality. BlockTexx owns the patent-pending S.O.F.T., that can separate polyester and cotton materials, apparel and home textiles – regardless of colour or condition. This, the company claims, offers the opportunity to return fibres of any quality back to high value PET or cellulosic raw materials for reuse across a variety of industries.

The recovered PET yielded from the process is subsequently polymerised to create virgin-grade S.O.F.T. branded rPET plastic pellets and polyester fibre. Similarly, the recovered cellulose is turned into cellulose powder ready for use within the textile field or many other applications. With such technologies, scaling is always a vital – and perilously tricky – step to make. Ross believes this will not be the downfall of his and the company’s vision, however: confidently stating: “textile separation and resource recovery at commercial scale will be a reality in 2019.” In terms of volumes for processing, Ross told us that the planned capacity for the firm’s first facility is 35,000 tonnes per year. This, as the company expands, could move beyond 100,000 tonnes in Australia alone within the next few years.

Rising recycling

The appetite from brands to incorporate recycled materials in their collections has undoubtedly risen of late. This is evidenced in the growth of BlockTexx. “We have seen a high level of engagement from companies that have a direct relationship with their textile waste,” Ross told us. “These businesses are active in developing solutions to their environmental impact and it’s that action that has driven our planning for logistics and plant capacity.”

Discussing the wider upwards trend seen in the recycling sphere, he added: “I think there are three key factors in advancing the interest in the recycled textile sector – traditional business models, innovation and consumers.” Innovation in textile recycling, Ross believes, is being driven by a combination of consumer and industry demand for both recycled materials and waste reduction. “Projects are beginning to move from the laboratory into pilot scale plants or, like BlockTexx, are moving into commercial scale,” he continued. “Circular economy applications call for resource recovery and reuse while advanced chemistry and biology are developing new techniques to achieve zero waste processes.”

Another factor which Ross doesn’t think can be ignored is the ripple effect instigated by China’s ‘National Sword’ policy. This, he says, “exposed the reliance on linear business models within the recycling industry. “The business as usual of textile waste collection and export business models, are under pressure due to the sheer volume of textile waste and the reducing value of that commodity. Across Asia, countries are now setting deadlines to end waste importation.”

Progressive partnerships

We know we are not alone in acknowledging there is a global problem with textile waste. There is no shortage of conversations about what needs to be done to reduce the fashion industries impact. “What BlockTexx does well is that we have a culture of urgency that in turn drives action,” is the rallying cry from Graham Ross, as BlockTexx seeks to build links with organisations across the textile and recycling sectors.

One of the company’s key targets is to build such relationships with like-minded firms to advance wider recycling developments. Earlier in 2019, the company stated it was seeking “interactions with organisations including governments and impact investors, who are looking for new ways to positively address the tsunami of textile waste going into landfill, and to be a source of supply for manufacturers and consumers demanding high quality recycled materials.”

Explaining how this goal could be – and is already being – achieved, Ross noted: “Textile waste in Australia is beginning to gain the recognition it needs from government and industry. Projects like the Queensland government initiative, the Circular Economy Lab – of which BlockTexx is a member – is raising the profile of waste to resource business models and circular economy thinking.” Continuing work with policy makers, BlockTexx has recently been awarded a local government grant by the City of Sydney, supporting a project which includes diverting textile waste from landfill and creating recycled products for community projects.

A successful Seed Round delivered financial backing from Artesian and MSG Holdings – partners which Ross and Jones describe as sharing their “environmental ambitions and are willing to back us financially to achieve them.” It is not only in industry that BlockTexx has been reaching out, with the charity sector also proving an important ally. Ross describes how many charities have been supportive of the firm as they are “usually the last line before landfill for garments.” He also confirmed the company is “active in discussions about future business models around recycled clothing that can create new revenue streams for these social enterprises.”

Concluding the interview, Ross made it clear that BlockTexx “will be announcing foundation partners and clients from across the textile spectrum” very soon.
A sign that, despite 2019 already having exhibited huge promise, the recycling firm will not be resting on its laurels any time soon. While countless industry executives will continue to cite the circular economy in conference speeches, it is the work of companies such as BlockTexx which is transforming that rhetoric from hollow greenwash into a viable solution to fashion’s substantial waste problem.

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