Cotton Australia's Innovative Approach to Textile Waste Management

Editorial TeamEditorial Team
September 13th, 2023
3:38 PM

Cotton Australia is leading a pioneering effort to recycle used cotton textiles by incorporating them into the soil, offering a sustainable solution to the fashion industry's waste challenge.


Cotton Australia is innovating a groundbreaking approach to tackle the issue of textile waste. Instead of consigning used cotton clothing and bedlinens to landfills, the organization is venturing into recycling these materials by integrating them back into the very soil that might have nurtured cotton plants initially. This innovative experiment holds the potential to create a circular and sustainable solution for the fashion industry's waste problem.

Cotton Australia's journey towards circularity commenced in 2019 within the Goondiwindi region, aiming to find a sustainable solution for Australia's textile waste crisis. Australians discard a staggering 50 out of the 55 pounds of clothing and textiles they purchase annually, emphasizing the urgency of the problem. Before 2017, this textile waste was exported to China.


Cotton Australia's Eco-Friendly Decomposition Experiment

The core of Cotton Australia's experiment involves shredding used 100 percent cotton clothing and bedlinens, mixing them into the top layer of soil, and introducing water to facilitate the disintegration process. Remarkably, the cotton-only fabrics decompose over time, fostering an environment conducive to the growth of beneficial bugs and nutrients essential for cotton plants.

According to Oliver Knox, an associate professor of soil systems biology at the University of New England in New South Wales, all this waste needs for decomposition is moisture, warmth, and fungi, making it an environmentally friendly approach.

The textiles utilized in this groundbreaking project are sourced from various channels. Local companies dealing with clothing deadstock and Sheridan, one of Australia's leading bedlinen suppliers, have contributed to the initiative. In addition to manufacturing offcuts, end-of-life bedsheets donated by Sheridan staff were used for the experiment. Initially, fabric samples were manually cut into small squares, but as the project evolves, cotton gins may be employed to grind the textiles efficiently.



Cotton Australia's Sustainable Textile Waste Management Initiative

Field trials conducted during 2021-2022 showcased promising results. The introduction of finely cut cotton textiles into the soil led to an increase in organic carbon content and improved soil fertility. This development is crucial for mitigating atmospheric CO2 emissions that would otherwise occur in landfills. Although the project encountered disruptions due to Covid and unexpected floods, it unexpectedly improved water retention in Australia's typically dry, clay-rich soil.

While it may take several years to gauge the full scope of the experiment's success, Cotton Australia's vision extends beyond cotton to encompass other natural fibers such as viscose and wool. Brooke Summers, the cotton to market lead at Cotton Australia, believes that this initiative will not only encourage consumers to embrace circularity but also inspire them to prefer natural fibers. With farmers already onboard, the hope is that the public will follow suit, driven by a growing demand for environmental solutions in their purchasing choices.

Cotton Australia's bold experiment in textile waste management signifies a pioneering step towards a more sustainable and circular fashion industry. By embracing innovative approaches to recycle textiles, the organization aims to inspire consumers and promote the adoption of environmentally friendly practices, ultimately contributing to a greener and more responsible future.


Organizations that Campaign for Sustainable Cotton:

  • Better Cotton Initiative (BCI): BCI is a global organization that promotes better standards in cotton farming to make it more environmentally friendly and socially responsible. They work with farmers, brands, and retailers to promote sustainable cotton practices.

  • Organic Trade Association (OTA): OTA is a membership-based organization that promotes organic agriculture, including organic cotton. They advocate for the use of organic cotton in textiles and clothing.

  • Textile Exchange is a global nonprofit organization that works to make the textile industry more sustainable. They focus on various fibers, including cotton, and provide standards and certifications for sustainable cotton production.

  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): GOTS is a certification standard for organic textiles, including cotton. They set strict criteria for organic and sustainable textile production, covering everything from farming to processing and labeling.