Cotton industry looks to use waste for soil health

Cotton industry looks to use waste for soil health

Cotton
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Wasted cotton textiles will return to the ground where they were grown as part of an innovative waste reduction and soil health project.

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A TRIAL project in southern Queensland could help markedly improve sustainability and cut waste within the cotton industry.

The project, to be trialled at a farm at Goondiwindi, will look at seeing whether cotton textile waste can be broken down and used as a soil ameliorant and a means to limit carbon emissions.

Project leaders are hoping the fabric will break down in the soil, increase microbial activity, lock in carbon and provide cover to improve soil moisture.

Predictions show the potential for 2.25 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2 e) into the atmosphere will be mitigated through the breakdown of the two tonnes of garments used in the trial in soil, rather than going to landfill.

The trial is being run under the guidance of circular economy specialists Coreo, and is a partnership between the Queensland Government, Goondiwindi Cotton, Sheridan, Cotton Australia, Worn Up and Cotton Research and Development Corporation-supported soil scientist Oliver Knox of the University of New England.

The cotton waste, made of up cotton textiles, garments and end-of-life State Emergency Service coveralls have been processed at recycling business Worn Up in Sydney, was transported to the property of Goondiwindi farmer Sam Coulton.

The industry is hopeful that the trial could start a mutually beneficial system where material that is otherwise destined for landfill could help boost on-farm productivity.

"Returning cotton garments to the farms on which they began would completely close the loop on a cotton product, providing a win for brands, retailers and consumers looking for circular solutions, and a possible benefit to our farmers and their soils," said Brooke Summers from Cotton Australia.

Dr Knox said the industry was being proactive about reducing waste.

"We need to get smarter about how we reduce and manage waste," he said.

"The potential to divert clothing from landfill, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and potentially feed our soils could help deliver more sustainable practices in multiple sectors," he said.

Textile waste is a major problem for communities and supply chains globally, with the latest Australian estimate showing approximately 85 per cent of apparel is sent to landfill at end of life.

Mr Coulton said he was excited to participate in the project.

"We grow it here and we should be able to bury it here with positive environmental and economic impact on the local community."

The trial will be completed by cotton harvest in early 2022, with initial results expected shortly after.

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