CSIRO backs local recycling startup transforming fabric into furniture

Uniform fibre and FABtec composite material. Image credit: ecos.csiro.au

Fabric recycling startup Worn Up has ventured into a partnership with Australia’s national science agency CSIRO to test and improve its efforts to turn old faded uniforms into pieces of furniture. 

Under CSIRO’s Kick-Start grant program, the company, which originated from local startup manufacturer Sustainable Schoolwear, will be able to tap into the expertise of CSIRO’s scientists and advanced facilities and equipment to further advance its methods. 

Sustainable Schoolwear owner Annie Thompson said her company sought ways to address the problems of textile and plastic waste by creating a new, usable material that combined both materials. 

Every school in Australia would throw out approximately 200 kg of uniforms per year, which means about 2,000 tonnes of uniform waste is making its way to Australian landfills annually, the business owner said. 

“Clothes are notoriously difficult to recycle. At the same time less than 10% of the 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste that Australians generate each year is recycled,” Thompson said. 

“We wanted to try to solve both problems at once but there was nothing in the market to do this. So we set about inventing it,” she added. 

The Sustainable Schoolwear team worked for two years to develop a strong and sustainable material comprised of textile fibres and recycled plastics. 

Their efforts, which involved only a pizza oven and a vision, resulted in a solid block of recycled plastic they dubbed “FABtec.” 

Worn Up was established in 2020 as part of the same mission to collect old uniforms from institutions across the country. 

Since its inception, Worn Up has recycled more than 100 tonnes of uniform material from schools located on the east coast of Australia. 

The company also received buy-in from local councils and corporations such as Coke and IKEA, which supplies unwearable uniform stock to be fed into the recycling program. 

Mel Dell’Olio, CSIRO’s senior experimental scientist, said the first task was to vet the existing fabric product. 

“FABtec proved to be an innovative compound with many possible applications, but we knew it could be even better,” Dell’Olio said.

In the long term, Thompson said her company intends to deploy the FABtec globally as an Australian product and have the Worn Up operational model replicated around the world.