Recycled materials from clothing could be used to pave Wellington roads

Wellington roads could be paved with recycled materials from cotton tshirts, should a new collaboration between The Formary and Wellington City Council go ahead.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

Wellington roads could be paved with recycled materials from cotton tshirts, should a new collaboration between The Formary and Wellington City Council go ahead.

Roads paved with materials extracted from recycled cotton T-shirts could be in Wellington’s future, should a collaboration between a textile recycling research company and the Wellington City Council go ahead.

The project is still in the early planning stages but, according to The Formary’s creative director Bernadette Casey, the New Zealand-made product was outperforming the European alternative in tests.

The extracted material stopped the bitumen seeping out of tarmac. “It gets shredded, extruded, and then mixed with the bitumen – like making a cake,” Casey said.

The location and timeline for the project were not yet decided, but things were looking promising.

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The product was usually imported from Germany, leaving a big carbon footprint.

The Formary worked with New Zealand Transport Agency, Thion, and WSP Global to create a like-for-like replacement, with far fewer air miles.

Bernadette Casey, co-founder of Usedfully and The Formary. (File photo)

Rosa Woods/Stuff

Bernadette Casey, co-founder of Usedfully and The Formary. (File photo)

It was part of a wider push by The Formary, and parent company Usedfully, for the textile industry to adopt a circular model, rather than the linear factory-to-user-to-landfill model commonly seen today.

“We just realised with our linear system there’s so much textile going to waste,” Casey said.

Previous collaborations with the council resulted in an audit of staff uniforms, and processes were established to divert these fabrics from landfill and turn them into reusable garments and textiles.

Their first client was Starbucks, a company which went through millions of coffee sacks each year.

The fashion industry is under a spotlight in terms of sustainabilty – only 12 per cent of clothing is recycled in any form at the end of its life, and just 1 one per cent of clothing is recycled back into clothing. (File photo)

Rosa Woods/Stuff

The fashion industry is under a spotlight in terms of sustainabilty – only 12 per cent of clothing is recycled in any form at the end of its life, and just 1 one per cent of clothing is recycled back into clothing. (File photo)

The sacks are now broken down, spun with wool, and made into upholstery fabric for their cafes.

“We won all these accolades, and we were feeling pretty clever, but then we saw one of Starbucks warehouses and it was just vast, and we realised individual projects could never address the scale of the problem.”

For the first eight years, all their projects were international. Now, they were focusing their efforts closer to home.

A Usedfully report found 80 per cent of all apparel merchandise ended up in landfills.

Only 12 per cent of clothing was recycled in any form at the end of its life, and just 1 per cent of clothing was recycled back into clothing.

“A cotton T-shirt takes three years of a person’s drinking water to make,” Casey said. “It’s resource intensive.”

A report by Usedfully has proposed a new circular system, wherein waste is reduced by diverting clothing from the landfill and put to good use.

Usedfully/Supplied

A report by Usedfully has proposed a new circular system, wherein waste is reduced by diverting clothing from the landfill and put to good use.

It also created three times its weight in greenhouse gases in landfills. Alternatively, it was exported overseas, on-sold into less affluent countries for recycling. “But what we’re really doing is exporting our waste.”

Councillor Laurie Foon said early tests were looking positive, and the system would challenge the status quo.

“I am very keen to see Wellington be first to trial a project like this, as if it works it is a fantastic example of reuse and a circular economy that could create jobs for New Zealanders.”

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