Welcome back to the series from MSDI, delving into the links between the Sustainable Development Goals and Australia’s textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) industry. This article explores the role the TCF industry plays in achieving SDG 11, Sustainable Cities. This is Part 1 of a two part in-depth look at SDG 11. Part 1 focuses on Australia and Part 2 will explore the same topic but will focus on Indonesia…
Welcome back to the series from MSDI, delving into the links between the Sustainable Development Goals and Australia’s textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) industry. This article explores the role the TCF industry plays in achieving SDG 11, Sustainable Cities. This is Part 1 of a two part in-depth look at SDG 11. Part 1 focuses on Australia and Part 2 will explore the same topic but will focus on Indonesia.
It feels incredibly fortunate of late to: live in a city that has an abundance of nature at our doorstep (small or large parks and nature reserves all within short distances of our homes); that there are buses that turn up to take us places; and we have rubbish trucks, routinely arriving to take our trash away. Each of these things contribute to making Australian cities highly liveable places (Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide are consistently ranked in the top ten of Global Liveability Index, with Melbourne having placed number 1 seven times in a row, (2011-2017)). This has left us reflecting on what are some of the strategies that have made our cities so liveable?
Through its 10 targets, Sustainable Development Goal 11, “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”, unpacks exactly what it is that makes a liveable city. The ten targets include:
adequate, safe and affordable housing;
safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport;
inclusive and sustainable urbanization;
protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage; and
provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces.
Each of these are incredibly important however, for the purposes of this article, there is one target that has particularly piqued our interest. It is Target 11.6: “By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management.”
Under Target 11.6, Indicator SDG 11.6.1 aims to measure the “proportion of urban solid waste regularly collected and with adequate final discharge out of total urban solid waste generated by cities.”
Urban solid waste, as set out under 11.6.1’s methodology, refers to household, commercial, business and institutional (ie schools and hospital) waste and includes “nonhazardous wastes composed of food waste, garden waste, paper and cardboard, wood, textiles, nappies (disposable diapers), rubber and leather, plastics, metal, glass, and refuse such as ash, dirt and dust.” Sewage sludge and faecal sludge (but not wastewater) is also included.
Currently, Australia does not report any data against this indicator. The Australian government’s site for official government data on the SDGs, sdgdata.gov.au, notes that “Investigation into generating/identifying appropriate data for this UN SDG Indicator is currently underway.”
There is a lack of accurate, or in some cases any, data on the amount of textiles in the waste stream at both national and local levels in Australia. For example, some of Australia’s most recent data on waste focuses on “exports of waste-derived materials from Australia to all countries.”1 Textile waste is not specifically analyzed however. Instead, it is included as part of the “other” materials group.
A recent report from Infrastructure Victoria included an estimated tonnage of textile materials generated, which was more than e-waste and tyres combined, however “materials including masonry, metals and textiles do not [currently] meet as many of the criteria and have been excluded from in-depth analysis”. Textiles were deemed to be not a significant environmental hazard but, also, they were the only material identified within the report with a 0% recovery rate.
What we do know though, is that globally, the levels of pre- and post-consumer textile waste are significant. Globally, we produce 53 mn tons of fibre for clothing annually. Of this, 12% is lost during production and 73% is landfilled or incinerated at the end of life. Less than 1% is recycled into new apparel and only 12% flows to cascading recycling .
Getting an in depth analysis of the textile waste we generate in Australia is a critically important exercise to undertake as it is, and should be, for all material streams that use our limited natural resources.
An Australian initiative, Blueprint for a Sustainable Fashion Industry (Blueprint) - Peter Allan, Dr. Clara Vuletich and Alida Milani making up the core team - has been designed to “provide[s] crucial information on the current flows of clothing and textiles across the garment lifecycle, including manufacture, consumption, use and end-of-life.”
As Alida says: “In understanding the volumes of clothing flowing through the different stages of consumption, use, reuse to recycling and disposal, we can design a more sustainable fashion industry for the future. Having accurate data will allow us to manage waste more effectively, with the ideal outcome of reducing waste, and will provide insights to use resources more efficiently.”
Why do we or should we care about how much textile waste we are generating? If it’s waste it is just waste right? Well, no! What if we could utilise some (ideally all) of the textile waste by, for example, re-manufacturing textile waste into new high value textiles (Seljak) or recycling textile waste into compatible product input streams (Save Our Soles Initiative)?
To identify, understand and demonstrate the viability and profitability of an alternate value stream we need to know what it is we are wasting, along with the value of that waste. Once we have this data we will be much better placed to implement suitable waste management approaches.
In the case of textile waste, we think a much more appropriate waste management approach to textiles would be to utilise the textiles - taking it out of the waste stream altogether and seeing it for perhaps what it really is - an incredibly high value input stream. Taking such an approach is directly linked to transiting to a circular model of TCF production and consumption. Failure to capture the textile “waste” will, most certainly, take us further down the path of resource depletion, on-going and increased pollution and decreased humanhealth outcomes within global production hubs.
There are some things that we might take for granted mostly because the work involved is largely hidden from sight as we go about our (albeit recently modified) daily life. Waste management is, perhaps, one of these things. It is easy to overlook what is involved in waste management because - when it’s working - you don’t really notice it at all. But waste management is an essential component of what makes a city liveable: a liveable city is not one with waste piling up in the street, with waste clogging the waterways or with waste scattered all over precious public spaces.
To ensure continued liveability going forward then we need to move away from the concept of waste is out of sight out of mind. To this end, it is imperative that we make better utilisation of what we currently see (or don’t see) as waste. For textiles, let’s not waste what we already have.
In Part 2 we will explore Melbourne’s sister city, Bandung, Indonesia. In 2019 Melbourne’s Lord Mayor visited Bandung and signed a letter of intent to enhance cooperation between the two cities.
SOME FURTHER RESOURCES
Waste and the Circular Economy :: Open Innovation Competition with the City of Melbourne
Australian Government, Department of Agriculture Water and the Environment’s Blue Environment Report Data on exports of Australian wastes 2018-19
Infrastructure Victoria’s Advice on Recycling and resource recovery infrastructure
This article is thanks to Julie Boulton & Aleasha McCallion from Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University. Stay tuned from more from this series as they delve into the SDG’s in detail over the coming months, and join the conversation on Twitter at @MonashMSDI