Can we use old cotton clothes to grow new ones?

Old cotton clothes

Can we use old cotton clothes to grow new ones?

What do old cotton clothes and a Queensland farmer have in common?

Back in June, cotton farmer Sam Coulton mixed 2 tons of shredded cotton in with compost and spread it on his land. It was in preparation for the annual cotton harvest which will begin next month.

The goal is to explore if old cotton can improve soil health and provide a scalable solution to textile waste.

Using old cotton clothes as fertiliser

Wait, what?

Yes, you read that introduction correctly. A farmer in Australia is going to grow cotton using old cotton clothes as fertiliser.

It sounds crazy, but it might just work! This project is a tester to see if returning old cotton to the soil is a viable solution to closing the loop on the circular economy.

Testing whether shredded cotton products could offer benefits to soil health could be a game-changer for the textile industry, the farming industry and the recycling industry.

Farmer Sam Coulson

Who’s doing this experiment?

The project is spearheaded by farmer Sam Coulson, founder of Goondiwindi Cotton, and is a partnership between his farm, the Queensland Government, Sheridan, Cotton Australia, Worn Up and Cotton Research and Development Corporation funded soil scientist, Dr Oliver Knox.

The project takes place under the guidance of circular economy specialists Coreo, a globally recognised and award-winning company that advises industry and government through their circular economy aspirations at both a strategic and operational level.

How does it work?

Unlike synthetic fibres, cotton is 100% natural, so it will break down in the soil.

The idea is that as the shredded cotton breaks down, it generates more fungus and bacteria, but doesn’t affect seed germination.

This allows crops to grow just as well as before, if not even healthier, as the soil is more “active” with the cellulose in the old cotton cloth acting as food for the bacteria.

For the trial, Sydney company Worn Up shredded 2 tonnes of cotton textiles, garments and end-of-life State Emergency Service coveralls.

Back in June, the shredded cotton was then sent to Sam on the farm in Queensland and spread onto a cotton field in preparation for the planting of October’s cotton crop.

Projections show the materials breaking down in soil rather than landfill would avert 2,250kg of CO2 equivalents being released into the atmosphere.

Old cotton clothes

Do old cotton clothes have the potential to change the textile industry?

The fashion and textile industries are notoriously wasteful, with the vast majority of clothing ending up in landfills.

In Australia alone, 780,000 tonnes of textiles waste are generated every year, with the recycling rate for clothing at just 7%.

This is simply unacceptable when you consider that almost 100% of textiles and clothing are recyclable.

On a global scale, the average number of times a garment is worn before it ceases to be used has decreased by 36% compared to even 15 years ago, mainly due to the ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon.

With a quicker turnaround of new styles, increased number of collections offered per year, and lower prices, fast fashion has caused untold damage to the environment.

Returning cotton garments to the farms on which they began would completely close the loop on a cotton product.

On top of being a huge benefit to our farmers, their soils and the planet, it would provide a win for brands, retailers and consumers looking for circular solutions.

As farmer Sam says, “We grow it here, we should be able to bury it here.”

Looking to the future of the textile industry

It’s innovative solutions and technological developments like this that make the future bright.

Sustainability and corporate responsibility are hot-button issues at the moment, and it is obvious that consumers are taking a keen interest in brands and how they can improve their practices and methods.

Change is coming for everyone, and as a business, you don’t want to get left behind.

We pride ourselves on always being at the forefront of the industry, and no matter what the future holds for the apparel business, we will be there.

Contact us today if you would like to know more about how we can help your business.

Whether you’re a fashion designer, garment manufacturer, or anything in between, we can help grow your business, cut costs, or reach a wider market.