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.
How is Australia handling recycling?
Since China (and most of the world) has stopped taking Aussie 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? Sadly, the scale of domestic production is still far too small to make a real difference. There are, however, 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, glass and paper are well-known recyclable goods. But what about clothing and other textiles? Or more specifically, workwear?
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 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.
Using recycled textiles, where possible, in our custom manufactured apparel.
Manufacture our custom workwear using more durable fabrics, increasing the garment’s lifespan and reducing the number of replacements per annum.
Promoting stock products that have a high recycled content to our clients.
Encourage our clients to commercially launder and recycle high ticket uniform items, like blazers and jackets, so they can be reused.
Encouraging our clients to establish a Uniform After-life Stewardship program.
Adhering to advanced global standards, our textile recycling partner is well-known for not only providing genuine recycled content, but also helping companies find a market for their recycled content.
What is textile recycling?
Textile recycling can be defined in a number of ways:
Mechanically shredding down textile items into a fibrous form and sold on the domestic or international market.
Mechanically cutting the garment into rags to be used again, for example the cleaning or automotive repair industries.
De-branding and re-selling the garment into the second-hand clothing markets.
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 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.
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 minimal 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 implement a “best practice” uniform recycling program in your business.
Step 1: Commit to recycling your uniforms!
Decide that uniform recycling will be mandated in your business. Understand the costs of implementing this program and build this into up-front budgets.
Step 2: Work out the logistics
Work out the logistics around the collection of old or unwanted 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.
Step 3: Work with a textile recycling partner
Total Uniform Solutions can connect you with our textile recycling partner, who will work exclusively 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. Our partners will advise on 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.
So now you know a bit more about workwear recycling. The big question is what are your next steps? Be proactive and join this movement to reduce landfill and implement initiatives in your business that demonstrate your commitment to sustainability.
It would be our pleasure to connect you with our textile recycling partners. If you want to talk about implementing a Uniform Stewardship program in your business, please get in touch.