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A Trial On a Queensland Farm Poses a Solution for Cotton Waste By Sending It Back To Where It Came From

Published July 25, 2022
Cotton growing on a farm

In really fantastic news for textile waste, the outcomes of a 12 month trial proposes a solution to cotton waste by returning it back to where it came from; A cotton farm, as compost.

It’s an important study because textile waste is a major problem, with the latest Australian estimate showing approximately 85% of apparel is sent to landfill at end of life, where it takes hundreds of years to break down and emits greenhouse gases as it does so. We need better solutions for textile waste.

The trial, on a cotton farm in Goondiwindi, Queensland in Australia, has shown it’s possible to divert large amounts of cotton textile waste at end of life from landfill with no harm done to soil health or cotton yields. In fact, the collective associated with the research are confident returning shredded cotton products to cotton fields could soon offer benefits to soil health.

“At the very least the trial showed that no harm was done to soil health, with microbial activity slightly increased and at least 2,070kg of Carbon Dioxide equivalents (CO2 e) mitigated through the breakdown of these garments in soil rather than landfill,” cotton industry supported soil scientist Dr Oliver Knox said.

“The trial diverted around two tonnes of textile waste from landfill with no negative impact on cotton planting, emergence, growth or harvest. Soil carbon levels remained stable and the soil’s bugs responded well to the added cotton material. There also appeared to be no adverse effect from dyes and finishes although more testing is needed on a wider range of chemicals to be absolutely sure of that.”

According to farmer Sam Coulton the cotton fields easily “swallowed up” the shredded cotton material, giving him confidence that this composting method has practical long term potential.

The project, under the guidance of circular economy specialists Coreo, was a partnership between the Queensland Government, Goondiwindi Cotton, Sheridan, Cotton Australia, Worn Up and Cotton Research and Development Corporation supported soil scientist Dr Oliver Knox of UNE.

Cotton farmer Sam Coulton.

Next steps 

The trial will be replicated in the 2022-23 cotton season on a Gunnedah property in NSW added as a second site, supported by Sheridan.

Project collaborators are confident that with a solid business plan and more research, returning shredded cotton products to cotton fields could soon offer benefits to soil health, and a scalable solution to the massive global problem of textile waste. And they already have a number of options on the table, including a committment from The Cotton Research and Development Corporation to funding a three year cotton textiles composting research project by the University of Newcastle that will further investigate the effects of dyes and finishes and look at ways to pelletise cotton textiles so it can be spread on fields using existing farm machinery.


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