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Changing how we design, consume and recycle clothing

We’re answering your questions about the clothing stewardship scheme, Seamless, and how it will drive the industry towards clothing circularity by 2030.

by sdelgos@ausfashioncouncil.com

14 June 2023

Seamless is Australia’s Clothing Product Stewardship Scheme. It aims to make Australian fashion and clothing truly circular, and significantly reduce the 200,000 tonnes of clothing that currently goes to Australian landfill each year.

What is a clothing stewardship scheme? How will the new Seamless scheme work? What is clothing circularity? Those questions and more are answered here.


What is a stewardship scheme?

According to the Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence, “product stewardship acknowledges those involved in designing, manufacturing, and selling products have a responsibility to ensure those products or materials are managed in a way that reduces their environmental and human health impacts, throughout the life-cycle and across the supply chain.”


Do stewardship schemes already exist in Australia?

Australia has a number of product stewardship schemes already in operation. They include: Mobile Muster, an industry-led voluntary product stewardship scheme managed by the Australian Mobile Telecommunication Association (AMTA) which addresses mobile phone waste; Cartridges for Planet Ark, which is a national product stewardship scheme for printer cartridges; the Tyre Product Stewardship Scheme which promotes environmentally sustainable collection and recycling processes to develop viable local markets for tyre-derived products; and many other schemes for plastics and containers through to batteries and oil.

For a detailed directory of existing and emerging product stewardship initiatives in Australia, visit the Product Stewardship Gateway managed by the Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence.


How will the new clothing stewardship scheme work?

The Seamless scheme takes a stewardship approach, which recognises that the fashion and clothing brands who place clothes on the market are responsible for the entire life of that garment, from design through to recycling or sustainable disposal.

The scheme design summary report recommends that Seamless is funded by a 4 cent per garment levy paid by ‘stewards’ who are the clothing brands who become members of the scheme. If 60% of the market by volume sign up to the scheme, a funding pool of $36 million will be raised per year to transform the industry.

These funds will be managed by a Product Stewardship Organisation (PSO) who will allocate them to address four priority areas:

- Circular design: Incentivising clothing design that is more durable, repairable, sustainable, and recyclable.
- Circular business models: New revenue models for reuse, repair, rental, and services that prolong clothing life.
- Closing the loop: Expanding clothing collection and sorting practices for effective reuse and recycling.
- Citizen behaviour change: Encouraging changed practices around clothing acquisition, use, care, and disposal.


Do other countries have clothing product stewardship schemes in place?

As part of the design process for the Australian scheme, the consortium drew insights from the approaches taken by twelve clothing stewardship schemes around the world.

The European Union is leading the charge through pushing for mandatory Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies for member states, as well as additional policy levers such as stricter regulation on sustainability communications and waste. There is one mandatory clothing product scheme in operation in France since 2007, and many in development at national or regional levels across Europe.

The United Kingdom has an industry and government co-led voluntary agreement in place, and both the United States of America and New Zealand have industry-led voluntary clothing stewardship schemes.

Many other countries including Hong Kong, Ghana, South Africa, India and the Netherlands provide diverse examples of how mechanisms and logics of clothing product stewardship are being used to harness industry power and agitate for change.

 

What is clothing circularity?

The majority of the clothing industry in Australia follows a linear model, of take, make and dispose. Clothing circularity will be achieved when the clothing lifecycle becomes circular, and follows a reduce, reuse, recycle model.

A circular clothing industry in Australia is one where responsible stewardship and citizenship are embedded across the lifecycle from clothing design and production, through to consumption and recirculation.

Circular clothing lifecycle


What is the role of foundation members?

The foundation members of Seamless, are BIG W, David Jones, Lorna Jane, Rip Curl, R.M. Williams and THE ICONIC. Each organisation has committed $100,000 to fund a 12-month transition phase while the Seamless scheme is established.

They will be driving the establishment and priorities of Seamless and playing a critical role in leading the Australian clothing industry’s transformation towards a circular economy by 2030.


What is the pathway and timeline for change?

The consortium has recommended a phased approach to the implementation of Seamless. The first phase from June 2023 to June 2024 is a transition phase that focuses on onboarding Seamless foundation members and recruiting future stewards and supporters. This phase will be facilitated by the Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence under the direction of a Transition Advisory Group.

The transition phase will also focus on establishing the Product Stewardship Organisation, which will manage Seamless from July 2024. This is when the garment levy will start to be collected from the clothing brands or stewards.

Seamless implementation timeline

 

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