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Textile Waste

Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I thank Ms Orr for bringing this motion regarding textiles and sustainability before the Assembly today. In March, I spoke in this chamber about the Repair Café at Ginninderry. On that occasion, I noted my strong commitment to thrift and the wise management of resources. ‘If I can buy perfectly good second-hand clothing at an op-shop’, I said then, ‘there is no reason to buy things that are brand new. If a button falls off, sew it back on’.

In my previous speech, I also mentioned PhD student Monica Andrew, whom I met during my very enjoyable visit to the Ginninderry Repair Café. Monica and her husband John are regular volunteers at Ginninderry, where the Repair Café is held the first Sunday of each month. In addition, Monica established the Repair Café at the University of Canberra at the end of 2018.

This initiative grew directly out of her research at the university. Monica’s PhD focusses on clothing and textile sustainability. ‘We simply can’t keep pulling things out of the earth and putting them back into landfill’, she has said.[1] There is about a kilogram of cotton in a typical pair of jeans and a T-shirt, but as Monica points out, there are a lot of other things embedded in that kilo of cotton, including 66 kilowatt hours of energy and somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 litres of water.[2]

Monica’s advice is simple: ‘All the research shows that the best way you can be more sustainable is to wear an item as many times as possible before you discard it’. This quest for longevity depends upon maintenance, she notes, which includes both proper laundering and repairs.

This is where community initiatives like Repair Cafés come in. Monica’s research has identified two major changes in Australian society. The first is that, sometime in the 1990s, Australian schools stopped ‘routinely teaching manual skills’. ‘There was this idea’, she has said, ‘that we needed knowledge workers, not manual workers’.[3] As a result, many people no longer know how to mend their own clothing.

At the UC and Ginninderry Repair Cafés, however, Monica teaches people how to sew on buttons, fix rips, mend fallen hems, and so forth. Most of these repairs are not difficult. ‘I get a lot of repairs … that take five minutes or less’, Monica notes. And this is an important fact because the other major change that has occurred is access to cheap clothing.

As a result, many people think ‘why bother repairing [something] now that I can go and buy a new one?’[4] But this is a false economy. As Monica makes clear, it often takes longer to go out and buy something than it would to do a quick repair.

Of course, another way to make sure that clothing is worn as many times as possible is to pass it along when we no longer need it. Many of us know that this can be done through community op-shops, but I take this opportunity to mention Roundabout Canberra. Local resident Hannah Andrevski founded this enterprise as a means of getting preloved clothing for babies and children into the hands of local charities that support families in need.

Roundabout Canberra recently ran out of clothing for older children. I understand that a generous community response has filled this gap when it comes to clothing for girls, but Hannah and her team are still desperate for boys’ clothing in sizes 8 through 16. I take this opportunity to encourage any Canberrans who have clean, good-condition boys’ clothes in these sizes to consider dropping them off to Roundabout Canberra, located at the Holt Community Hub in Beaurepaire Crescent, between 10am and 1pm on weekdays or between 1pm and 4pm on Saturdays.

I thank Hannah, Monica, Roundabout Canberra, the Repair Cafés at Ginninderry and at the UC, and all other residents and community organisations who are engaged in helping us be wiser in our management of textiles and other resources here in the ACT. I look forward to seeing the innovative ideas that such people and organisations will bring to upcoming public consultation on this matter. Thank you.

[1] [2] [3] Ibid. [4] Ibid.


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