The Minister for Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek has vowed to take action on circularity in the fashion industry if little is done over the next 12 months. 

At the launch of Australian Fashion Council’s new Seamless initiative, Plibersek pleaded with fashion retailers to join the scheme, which will be funded by a 4 cent per garment levy by scheme members, alongside $100,000 contributions by six major fashion retailers: The Iconic, David Jones, RM Williams, Lorna Jane, Rip Curl and Big W.

The minister said if not enough fashion retailers sign up, she will launch a government-designed system alongside a levy to pay for it.

“We have a choice here,” Plibersek said. “This can be an industry-led approach. You collect the money, you decide how the money is best used, you invest in the research you need, you invest in the collection systems you need, you take charge… or I'll do it.

“I've been really clear that this is too big an environmental problem to turn our backs on. I want to see industry leadership. I don't want to be making these decisions for you. But if I don't see enough movement in a year, then I will regulate.”

According to Plibersek, the average Australian produces about 10 kilograms of clothing waste each year.

“We're throwing out the equivalent of say, two winter coats, six pairs of pants, three dresses, five t-shirts, a pair of shoes and a bag of odd socks every year. Now times that by 25 million.

“It's actually a quarter of a million tonnes of clothing going into landfill every year - it's pretty hard to conceptualize how big an amount that is.

“And of course, there's the waste. There's the economic waste of using something a few times and sticking it in the landfill. But there's also the huge environmental impact of doing that.”

Alongside waste, Plibersek said some clothes that break down release microplastics into the soil, which end up in water streams.

“The average Australians is ingesting a credit card's worth of microplastics every week, through the food we consume as it gets into our food cycle, through the water we drink.

“And of course, the manufacturing of clothing is very emissions-intensive - global textile production releases more carbon dioxide than the international flight and maritime industries put together.

“And if you see the sort of consumer movement in Europe to say don't fly anywhere because of the carbon emissions, you have to think is this coming for our industry as well?

Plibersek said this is where the new Seamless scheme comes in.

“It is about saying we don't accept this exponential growth of waste going into our landfill - there's exponential use of raw materials that then just get wasted. We've got to do something different.

“[The new scheme] does that by charging a tiny levy on every item of clothing, four cents on an item of clothing. There is no way on God's earth that Australian consumers are going to object to four cents on an item of clothing to stop it from going into landfill.

“Australians want to recycle. We saw the way people responded when Redcycle went bust. Across the community, people were alarmed by that.

“They want to minimize the impact they're having on the natural environment. And if you can help them do that for four cents on an item of clothing, they're going to be patting you on the back.”

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