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How New Zealand is Fighting the Growing Problem of Textile Waste

So-called “fast fashion” isn’t slowing down, which means the problem of textile waste is only going to get worse.

New Zealand’s Textile Reuse Programme, launched by minister Eugenie Sage in Wellington last month, wants to do something about it. Led by the Formary, a social enterprise that recycles end-of-life textiles into good-as-new ones, the initiative is a collaboration of organizations “building the systems and technology to extract much greater value from clothing,” seeking to reduce environmental impacts and save resources, it said in a statement. Program partners include Alsco NZ, Fonterra, Wellington City Council, Wellington Zoo and Barkers Menswear. Burberry reportedly has expressed interest.

The Formary is looking to leverage technology to combat the problem. In August, it announced its collaboration with BlockTexx, an Australian fashion technology firm that connects textile manufacturers, retail brands and logistics providers by means of a secure, blockchain-enabled marketplace. Their shared goal is to map and develop workflow models to tackle the preponderance of waste stemming from the creation of billions of garments per year, according to Bernadette Casey, creative director of the Formary.

Incorporating technology provides traceability, transparency and real metrics on material flows and impacts that informs organizational sustainability reporting, she said.

Though most discussions about clothing overconsumption center on the Northern Hemisphere, Australia and New Zealand aren’t immune to the challenges created by disposable fashion, said Graham Ross, co-founder of BlockTexx.

The Auckland Council estimates, for instance, that discarded textiles make up 9 percent of its municipal landfills and are its fastest-growing waste stream.

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“The Formary is a leader in this space and we believe our focus at BlockTexx on using technology to unlock the immense value in textile waste along the entire supply chain strongly complements the Formary’s expertise,” Ross said.

The Textile Reuse Programme will adopt a similar tack, approaching the issue from a systems perspective designed to propel the fashion industry toward a circular model where used clothing is “looped back” into useful production, Casey said. Doing so, she added, has the potential to capture billions of dollars’ worth of resource value that is—sometimes literally—going up in smoke

Members will wield the United NationsSustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework, in particular SDGs 9, 11, 12, 13, and 17, which relate to innovation and infrastructure, responsible consumption, climate action and partnerships.

“On Aug. 1, the world had consumed a year’s worth of resources in just 7 months,” Casey said. “It is now crucial that we move away from the current linear clothing model that churns out 100 billion units a year, to a system where we draw fewer natural resources and capture far greater value from the clothing we currently discard.”