Speech to launch the National Clothing Product Stewardship Scheme

07 June 2023

Thank you all for joining us this morning, on the home of the Gadigal people.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and pay my respects to their elders past and present. 

And I extend that respect to all First Nations people here today.  

It’s wonderful to be here, with so many faces from the fashion community, as we launch the National Clothing Product Stewardship Scheme.   

It’s an important first step, and hopefully the first of many.  

A step towards taking responsibility for our products, from the moment we design them to the final days of their useful life.  

A scheme like this is not about casting blame.  

Because when it comes to clothing waste, we’re all a little bit guilty.   

We’ve all had our Marie Kondo moments.  

When we’ve opened up our wardrobe and decided to rid ourselves of everything that doesn’t spark joy.

Even if, in hindsight, I probably should have kept my collection of high waisted mum jeans from the eighties. 

But we've all been there. We’ve all felt that sense of liberation.  

And most of us want to do the right thing, so we usually drop the bag at Vinnies after we’re done.  

But we’ve still got that nagging voice in our head – it can’t be good, all this waste.    

And that voice is right.  

Because even when we mean well, even when we try our best, charities aren't nearly big enough to process the scale we’re dealing with here.  

Australians are buying more clothes than ever.  

We’re wearing those clothes for less time than we used to.  

And we’re sending more clothing to landfill than we ever have.    

Which means that clothing is now a significant part of Australia’s waste problem.  

The average Australian sends almost ten kilograms of clothing waste to landfill every year.  

Which is like throwing out two winter coats, six pairs of jeans, three dresses, five t-shirts, a pair of shoes, and a bag of odd socks every year.  

And when you multiply that by twenty five million, you’ve got a significant problem on your hands.  

Not just because it’s a massive waste of money, which offends our basic sense of thrift and prudence.  

But because textiles can do real damage to our environment.   

When left to rot in landfill, these old clothes can leach harmful chemicals into the soil and the groundwater.  

They can release microplastics into the local environment.  

Microplastics are now being found in the human bloodstream, in our organs, even in breast milk and placentas.  

And clothing can be deceptively emissions intensive too.  

Global textile production releases more carbon dioxide than the international flight and maritime shipping industries combined.  

And if we don’t change our course, if we keep going as we’re going, those emissions will keep rising by up to 50% by the middle of this century.   

And that’s where this scheme comes in.  

This scheme is about changing course.  

From a model that relies on disposability, to a model that values reuse.  

From a model that accepts the exponential growth of waste, to a model that views every piece of rubbish that ends up in landfill as a missed opportunity.  

This scheme is about designing products more efficiently, so we produce less waste in the first place.  

It’s about choosing materials that can be recycled more effectively.  

It’s about encouraging businesses that repair, remodel and remanufacture their clothing.  

It’s about educating people so they can shop more sustainably.  

And it’s about investing in better collection and sorting practices, so we can identify the higher value materials, and give them a second lease on life.   

It does this by charging a small levy on each piece of clothing – a recommended four cents an item.  

It’s a modest contribution, it won’t break the bank, and it will be used to fund good environmental work.

This is starting out as a voluntary scheme, so every company that’s signed up today is choosing to do the right thing.  

And I want to publicly congratulate the Australian Fashion Council and their CEO Leila Naja Hibri for their work pulling this scheme together. 

I also want to congratulate the foundation members for leading the way.  

Big W. Rip Curl. The Iconic.  

RM Williams. David Jones. Lorna Jane.  

We’ve got some of the biggest names in Australian fashion here.  

From Hugh Jackman’s leather boots to Australia’s favourite yoga pants.   

And each of these companies is here, by choice, showing us their environmental credentials.  

They’re walking the walk, proving their commitment to a more sustainable industry.  

I know this is something that your shareholders care about it.  

It’s something your customers have shown they’re willing to research and change their behaviour around.  

And it’s definitely something your staff are invested in.  

So this is the right thing to do, but it’s also smart business.  

As I said, this is just a voluntary scheme – for now.  

Clothing has been sitting on the priority list for regulation for the last couple of years.  

That means that government has said to this industry that we’re giving you a chance to get your house in order.  

We’ve said: if you can deal with this problem internally, that’s great.  

But there are limits.  

There are expectations you need to meet.  

If companies choose to pull out, or free ride on the work of others, then I have no problem stepping in and regulating directly.  

The alternative to this program isn’t a weaker scheme with a lower levy – it’s government regulation.  

I want to be one hundred percent clear about what I mean by this. 

The scheme being launched today has given itself twelve months to establish itself and get underway. 

If the voluntary scheme is not viable – if we don’t believe it’s sufficient, or if it’s not raising enough money to cover its costs – then I will regulate. 

I will impose the system and I will set the levy.  

The industry has until June 30 next year to satisfy me that it’s serious and the scheme is viable. 

That is a drop-dead date. No excuses, no extensions. 

As Minister, I’ll be following the development of the scheme closely.  

There’s a lot of good people involved in this, who want it to succeed.  

And I do too.  

So I’ll finish with a message to all the companies that haven’t signed up yet.  

The Fashion Council have just released their design report for the scheme, which sets out their vision going forward.  

Take the time to read it, and then get on board.  

Join this scheme. Make it viable. Do your bit.  

Your participation will be good for the industry, good for your business, and good for the environment we all depend on.  

Thank you.