Turning trash into treasure: giving a second life to corporate textile waste

As Featured on: Turning trash into treasure: giving a second life to corporate textile waste – Mining Magazine

As the mining industry works to become more sustainable to meet environment, social and governance goals (ESG), one strategy that can be implemented is the circular economy – a concept that looks to eliminate waste and pollution by generating value from normally wasteful processes. Currently, the most common application of circular economy in the industry involves reprocessing tailings materials in order to extract leftover minerals, however, this is not the only form circular economy can take. There are plenty of opportunities for mining companies to take advantage of the resources available to mining operations, such as old uniforms, to implement circular economy practices and work towards ESG goals at the same time.

By now most of us have heard of the massive amounts of textiles we, in the developed world, send to landfill as a result of fast fashion and overconsumption. In Australia alone, each individual buys almost 15kg of clothes every year – making the country the second highest consumer of textiles in the world per capita – and most of this ends up in landfill.

Lucy Tomassini, Projects and Business Development Manager at Loop Upcycling – a social enterprise leading the way in the circular economy by upcycling corporate waste – said, “Australia is the second-highest consumer of textiles in the world, with Australians discarding close to 800,000 tonnes of clothing(1) and textiles each year, at a rate of 15 tonnes every ten minutes.

“Australia has historically lagged behind some other countries in both recognising and dealing with the textile waste problem. In fact, textiles until very recently weren’t even recognised as a waste stream by local or federal governments. People would concentrate on the traditional waste streams of paper, glass, and plastic bottles without understanding that 70 per cent(2) of the world’s textiles contain exactly the same chemicals.

“It is estimated that over 50 per cent of working Australians wear a uniform(3). These uniforms are typically replaced every 12 months, with high-vis workwear being replaced more often (recommended every six months) to meet safety standards. Not to mention the amount of times companies go through a rebrand. Presuming these textiles are tossed in the bin, that’s a whole lot of landfill!

Currently, businesses in Australia throw away or destroy a mind-blowing amount of uniforms.”

Finding a sustainable solution

Extending the life of old uniforms and upcycling them is one strategy that mining companies can implement with major benefits.

Aside from minimising the volume of materials and waste being sent to landfill every year, it also reduces the amount of production using new or raw materials, which in turn reduces air and water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, and can help conserve global resources.

“Loop believes that businesses should take responsibility for their textile waste, by considering the afterlife of their workwear and making a commitment to keep as much out of landfills as possible,” Ms Tomassini said. “We understand the concept of upcycling and reuse might be novel to many companies, but we want to encourage businesses to rethink the way they consume and discard, by recognising their redundant workwear as something that still has value and can be repurposed and reused. “Studies show that extending the life of clothing by just nine months would already reduce carbon, water, and waste footprint by 20-30 per cent(4).”

Tackling the problem together

Loop Upcycling was founded in 2017 as a sustainable solution to Virgin Australia’s redundant uniforms and has grown into a West Australian circular economy social enterprise and Australia’s first corporate upcycling company. The organisation works with companies to develop unique and innovative programs to deal with redundant uniforms – diverting them from landfills and upcycling them into new, useful products, such as tote bags, duffle bags, hats, backpacks, and much more.

Loop supports new migrants and refugees, those in the justice system, living with a disability, suffering from mental illness, victims of domestic violence, the homeless, and older Australians. Its mission is two-fold: to save the 800,000 tonnes of clothing Australia sends to landfills each year and to support those most in need in our communities through meaningful training and employment opportunities. It has a goal to reduce the 800,000 tonnes of clothing and textiles that Australia sends to landfills each year while creating training and employment opportunities for people living with disadvantages.

“We provide companies with a pioneering circular solution to their corporate textile waste through sustainable and practical upcycling programs. Our unique three-stage approach of re-wear, upcycling, and recycling, enables Australian businesses to take ownership of their textile waste and make a meaningful social impact along the way,” Ms Tomassini said.

“We encourage them to upcycle their workwear into products that they will use or currently already purchase, such as items for staff or merchandise for events. This not only allows us to help minimise their waste but also their consumption. “Once we have confirmed the best repurposing solution for our client, their workwear is then collected and transported to our warehouse to be counted, sorted, cleaned and prepared for the next stage.

Often, we will support companies in setting up collection points within their operations, to collect redundant uniforms which would otherwise be discarded by staff. “Loop provides the following circular solutions to workwear waste:

  1. Re-wear: workwear that is in great/new condition, where we can rebrand or securely cover old branding. We can return these back to the company (depending on their branding preferences) or we can redistribute them through our network of community organisations and social enterprises.
  2. Upcycling: workwear waste is transformed into new, functional products that can be reused by businesses. Our goal is to repurpose redundant materials into items that will be useful for companies or can replace something they are already currently buying, such as items for staff, merchandise for events or items for the community.
  3. Recycling: material that cannot be reworn or upcycled, will be recycled. We ensure we repurpose as much of the usable material as possible. Only material that is completely unusable and scraps left over from the upcycling process will then be recycled or downcycled. “We can upcycle all sorts of different materials – if we can sew it, we can upcycle it! We mainly upcycle workwear but have also upcycled banner mesh. We make different items such as duffle bags, tote bags, backpacks, hats, aprons, lunch bags, teddies, and pencil cases and continue to custom design all sorts of new products.

“Throughout the process, we engage people experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage, such as refugees, new migrants, victims of domestic abuse, and people experiencing homelessness. Through our upcycling solutions and partnerships with local community organisations, we provide training, upskilling, and employment programs to those in our community that need it most. We take a person-centered approach and believe all people have the right to pursue meaningful work.”

So far Loop Upcycling has already diverted over 38 tonnes of workwear from landfill and continues to support all people experiencing vulnerability in our community through training and employment opportunities, created through its sustainable workwear solutions.

“Loop is continuing to see an ever-growing demand, as businesses seek innovative ways to become more environmentally and socially responsible,” Ms Tomassini said.

If you are a business looking for sustainable solutions to your redundant workwear, get in touch at Stay in the Loop by following us on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook @loopupcycling.