Cotton composting to solve clothing crisis

·2-min read

Mountains of textile waste pose a major threat to Australia's environment, but a year-long trial at a farm in southern Queensland may have found a solution to that problem.

About two tonnes of end-of-life Sheridan cotton sheets and State Emergency Service coveralls were shredded, transported to Alcheringa farm in Goondiwindi, in the state's south, and spread onto a cotton field by farmer Sam Coulton.

Mr Coulton said his cotton fields easily "swallowed up" the shredded cotton material.

"We spread the cotton textile waste a few months before cotton planting in June 2021 and by January and the middle of the season the cotton waste had all but disappeared, even at the rate of 50 tonnes to the hectare," Mr Coulton said, adding he thought the method had long-term potential.

Soil scientist Oliver Knox from the University of New England, whose work was funded by the cotton industry, said the project's findings could offer a simple solution to the massive global problem of textile waste.

In Australia alone, people purchase an average of 27kg of new clothing each year and discard about 23kg to landfill, according to government figures.

Dr Knox said a good proportion of textile waste was recycled, reused or reprocessed, but Australians nearly led the world in the amounts sent to landfill.

"Once disposed of, this waste clothing can impact the environment through greenhouse gas emissions and the production of microplastic," he told AAP.

"This trial diverted around two tonnes of textile waste from landfill with no negative impact on cotton planting, emergence, growth or harvest.

"If we can't or won't change what we are wearing or how long we keep it, then we need projects like this to minimise our environmental impact and potentially improve our soils at the same time."

Similar methods of cotton composting were used between the world wars, and in Europe during the industrial revolution.

However, Dr Knox said in those days the work was simpler because all of the material was made from natural fibres.

The need to sort through natural and synthetic textiles offered perhaps the biggest obstacle to the method being adopted more widely, he said.

"Australia currently lacks automated sorting facilities, which, given the amount of blended textiles we throw out, poses an issue."

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