Reduce, reuse, recycle - helping the textile industry make a better impact on the environment

A new guide by Monash University researchers and industry experts is helping Australia’s textile, clothing and footwear industry and consumers understand the huge impact textiles have on the environment, and how they can become more sustainable.

Co-developed by Monash University’s Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI), "A Better T-shirt for today and tomorrow. Circular Stories. Volume 1 was officially launched today by the Hon Lily D’Ambrosio, Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change.

The guide was developed by the MSDI-led Circular Stories Working Group - a collective of designers, distributors, re-users, recyclers and researchers committed to raising awareness of the need for a circular textiles economy in Australia.

The current model of textile production and consumption, such as fast fashion, is putting unsustainable pressure on the environment, contributing to water shortages, biodiversity loss, soil degradation and climate change. More than 15 billion t-shirts are produced worldwide every year. More than half are disposed of in under 12 months, contributing to over 315,000 tonnes of textile waste per year in Australia.

Focusing on the lifecycle of a t-shirt, the guide is designed to help industry and consumers understand the environmental impact of the way we produce and consume textiles, and what can be done to improve processes and empower consumers to make informed choices.

Speaking at the online launch of the guide, Minister D'Ambrosio said the Victorian Government, through its Circular Economy Business Innovation Centre (CEBIC), would support Victorian textile industries with similar projects in the future.

“This guide is exactly the type of cross-sector collaboration that we are looking to foster over the next 12 months,” Minister D’Ambrosio said.

Minister D'Ambrosio also announced that CEBIC, the Victorian Government’s organisation dedicated to promoting circular economy solutions (established under the 2020 Recycling Victoria policy), will focus on textiles as a priority material for 2021-2022.

“Over the next 12 months, the Government will do this through a dedicated textile grant stream, events that bring together textiles industry stakeholders, and an online channel for sharing information, including case studies and research reports,” she said.

“It’s time for all of us to reconsider our relationship with clothing. Textiles are too valuable to be worn once or twice and then discarded. Just like glass, paper and plastic, we need to establish a more sustainable system for textiles that keeps items in circulation for as long as possible.”

Victoria generates around 180,000 tonnes of textile waste each year. This represents around 23 kg of textile waste per person.

Chair of MSDI, Professor John Thwaites, reaffirmed Monash University’s commitment to sustainability and MSDI’s focus on helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The fashion industry has a unique opportunity to progress SDG 12 - Responsible production and consumption - by shifting to a circular model of production,” Professor Thwaites said.

“This guide is an example of what can be achieved by universities working directly with industry to develop a product that we know is needed and can be used to change the way we do things for the better.”

The launch was attended by key Australian fashion and textile industry stakeholders including retailers, manufacturers, peak bodies and government representatives including the CEO of Sustainability Victoria, Claire Ferres Miles.

The Circular Stories Working Group and the idea for the guide developed from a research trial conducted in partnership with MSDI’s BehaviourWorks Australia team, Circular Strategies and the Australian Fashion Council, and is coordinated by MSDI’s Circular Textiles Program.

The Circular Stories Working Group includes local textile manufacturers, and labels A.BCH, Seljak, and Kloke.

The group will host a number of events and workshops over the coming months in collaboration with CEBIC and Sustainability Victoria to connect with industry and promote the guide.

The group also intends to develop other apparel product guides in future.

Download a copy of the guide:

"A Better T-shirt for today and tomorrow. Circular Stories. Volume 1” at www.monash.edu/circular-fashion

To learn more about circular textiles and the guide, read the Monash Lens story.