RMIT researchers give industrial and consumer fashion waste a new lease on life

RMIT researchers give industrial and consumer fashion waste a new lease on life

The environmental impact of industrial and post-consumer waste can be significantly reduced by adopting a more sustainable way to manage the products from fashion and textiles.

The new approach, that looks at repurposing waste to be used in mattresses, as filling materials, insulators, or yarn can be applied on a large scale, thanks to proven technology developed by a group of researchers from RMIT University in Vietnam and Australia.

RMIT School of Business & Management lecturer and researcher Dr Majo George confirmed that the technology had already been fully developed and successfully transferred to a manufacturing company in Australia, which used a fibrous mixture from recycled clothing as a filling material in new mattresses.

“As per the Australian Standards and British Standards, all fibrous components used in mattresses must be flame-retardant and meet the standard specifications,” Dr George explained. “However, post-consumer fashion waste that uses fibres such as cotton, polyester, viscose and nylon are flammable.

“Our team developed indigenous technology to make the fibrous mixture flame-retardant using eco-friendly chemical finishes that are readily available at a low cost, and approved by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).”

The technology passed all required tests, including limiting oxygen index (LOI), electrical burner, and thermo-gravimetric analysis (TGA).

New hope for the mountains of fashion waste in landfill

RMIT School of Communication and Design senior lecturer and another research team member Dr Rajkishore Nayak highlighted the major concerns of post-consumer fashion waste in many countries.

“The emergence of fast fashion has led to increased consumer purchasing, shorter clothing life cycle, and higher rates of clothing disposal,” he said. 

news-thumbnail-rmit-researchers-give-industrial-and-consumer-fashion-waste-a-new-lease-on-life The emergence of fast fashion has led to increased consumer purchasing, shorter clothing life cycles, and higher rates of clothing disposal.

“The availability of new, low-cost fashion lines every two to three weeks has created a consumer appetite for impulse buying and a desire to keep pace with continually changing fashion brands. As a result, consumers dispose of their clothing more frequently.”

Dr George used the UK as an example, where currently approximately 140 million pounds of clothing is sent to landfill every year; a trend that will continue to increase in the coming years.

“Significant consequences of such landfill waste include the release of the greenhouse gas methane, chemical leaching into the soil, health issues and air pollution.”

As the fourth largest global exporter of fashion and textiles, Vietnam is facing similar issues in managing the waste generated during garment manufacturing (pre‐consumer waste) and end‐of‐life clothing (post‐consumer waste).

Dr George believed that the project could help the Vietnam Government to reduce the environmental stress from tons of post-consumer fashion and textile waste.

“We are expecting to process 4,000 to 5,000 kilograms of textile waste over the duration of this project, with an average of around 380 kilograms per month,” he said.

“It has the potential to scale rapidly, as industry partners gain first-hand experience of how alternative uses of waste products can lead to new products and additional profit.

“Disposing of waste in a more sustainable way can be cheap and profitable.”

While looking for a potential partner to pilot the project, Dr George optimistically said that the success of this program may set a good example for sustainable fashion and textile waste management across Vietnam.

“Using industrial and consumer waste as a raw material to produce new products will help the industry, and also alleviate the environmental pollution while providing additional revenue streams,” he said. “This is where the sustainability of this project truly lies.

“Once the technology for mass production is successfully demonstrated, it is likely that local companies will further advance the technology through investment in the development of sustainable business methods.

“And if we show manufacturing companies that sustainable methods of reuse can develop additional revenue instead of costing them money, a supply chain is likely to establish, and additional investment will flow through.”

news-2-rmit-researchers-give-industrial-and-consumer-fashion-waste-a-new-lease-on-life RMIT researchers successfully developed new technology to reduce the negative environmental impact of post-consumer fashion. From left to right: research team members from RMIT University in Vietnam: Dr Rajkishore Nayak, Dr Majo George, and Irfan Ul Haq.

Other research team members from RMIT University included Irfan Ul Haq based in Vietnam, and Professor Rajiv Padhye and Professor Lijing Wang based in Australia.

Read more about the new technology in the paper Sustainable reuse of fashion waste as flame-retardant mattress filing with ecofriendly chemicals, that was published in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

Story: Ha Hoang

  • Sustainability
  • Fashion
  • Research
  • Industry

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