Interview with Deb Knight, 2GB

9 February 2021


DEBORAH KNIGHT: But we hear a lot of rubbish these days, don't we? And we called it out as much as we can here on the radio station, but we also hear a lot about all things that do go to waste, about rubbish - everything from paper to plastics and even food. But have you ever heard of textile waste? Every year, Australians throw away 800,000 tonnes of clothing and textile. That's a lot. And the Federal Government has today announced funding to try to tackle the issue, and they're also introducing this idea of a national round table to bring together the fashion industry, retailers, producers, and charities to try to stop the amount of clothes and textiles ending up in landfill.
Sussan Ley is Environment Minister. She's behind it all. She's on the line for us. Minister, thanks for joining us. I had no idea how much textiles, how much clothing, is being wasted.

SUSSAN LEY: I didn't either, Deb. I know that when I had teenage daughters, they seem to buy a lot of fast fashion that ended up in the corner of the bedroom and never emerged. But across the board, we are buying clothes at such a rate. We don't know what to do with them when they're too old, too worn out, or simply out of fashion. So, this is taking a step in the right direction. We've dealt with plastic, glass, paper, and tyres with our Recycling Modernisation Agenda and I'm turning my attention this year to textiles including uniforms, [indistinct] uniforms.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah. Because that was a surprise to me because you mentioned the fast fashion, and you know, the websites ASOS and THE ICONIC, I know they're so popular and they've got a big turnaround on their fashion and they're often the ones that get pointed and singled out as the ones as- an instigator for this. But uniforms, we've got a second-hand uniform part at my kid's school, which is quite popular. I would've thought that they'd be reused within the school community.

SUSSAN LEY: And of course they are, but at the end of their life, they have been going into landfill - 12,000 tonnes of branded uniforms. That's not just school uniforms; that's tradies' uniforms and anything that's got a label on it, which of course is harder to give to someone who's not in the organisation or at the school. I'm in a warehouse in Macquarie Park and I'm looking at pieces of shredded school uniform that are being turned, experimentally at this stage, into tiles, desktops, recycled objects that could, for example, be outdoor furniture, in simple ways; using plastic as well, which is also a good recycling exercise, but ultimately, not going into that hole in the ground, not contaminating our environment.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, and also using them for roads, things that I would never have thought possible.

SUSSAN LEY: Well the idea is use them for something. So kicking off this roundtable with the Australasian Circular Textile Association, it will, as you just said, bring together all of the players in this important area, including those who make the clothes, the fashion leaders, the retailers, the charity sector, and work out how we can create responsibility for the end of life. That's what product stewardship means and that's across the board. We've talked about car seats, we've talked about batteries, but making sure that when you make something, you consider how it be recycled and what happens to it at the end of its life, and clothing is just absolutely huge in this area.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah. And I mean when you've look at that figure, 800,000 tonnes, that's about 30 kilos per person every year ending up in landfill. I know that charities take a lot of them, but often they can't reuse many of the clothes that are donated. It's that sort of that idea that if you weren't willing to give it to a friend or a relative to use, if it was that bad, you know, give it to the charity and people have- well, they wonder, what do I do with it?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, ironically, the charity- well, and all the charities do an amazing job with this by finding someone who might be able to wear it again, and they bundle the rest up as rags and they send it overseas. And often, those bales of clothing get disassembled, reused again, which is good, but the really ironic part is some of them find their way back to Australia as rags that are imported. So, we can't do better.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, absolutely. Now just a couple of other issues. What do you make of the current energy debate about net zero emissions? Because the Government- you seem divided on it. The PM not committing to net zero by 2050, but sort of edging closer.

SUSSAN LEY: No committing to having a target without a plan, and I think that's the important thing, because we need to know how we're going to get there. Yes, that's our ambition to get it earlier than 2050, but how do we do it is the next question. And if you are a farmer or a minor or someone who manufactures, and you know, you contribute to emissions, you need to know what the plan looks like and what your responsibility, roles and the implications will be for you. If you're a consumer, you need to know what your electricity price is likely to be.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And how are you going to get Nationals MPs on board? Because many are saying they won't back the net zero target if it were to be legislated.

SUSSAN LEY: Well, I don't know that it's a legislative issue, and I think it's appropriate that-

DEBORAH KNIGHT: [Interrupts] So you want to make it law?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, I think it's quite appropriate- as I said, I don't know whether it's appropriate for it to be legislated. If it is, it is and we'll work through that along the way. The most important thing is that we collaborate and we are doing that, and we talk about how we can get, as I said, a plan to get to net zero that brings everybody with us. That includes our farm sector. It includes our manufacturing industry that recognises, for consumers, if costs go up unreasonably. That's not fair either.

Australia is playing its part in reducing emissions. We never left the Paris Agreement. As 1.3 per cent of global emissions, we've got one of the highest renewable energy uptakes in the world. So not only are we playing our part in reducing emissions, we are leading the world with renewable energy. And can I say as someone who represents rural industries and farmers, we're leading the way in showing how our farming systems can adapt.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: So if there is a target then, rather than having it legislated, would you agree that agriculture should be included in that because there've been calls for agriculture to be left out of that target?

SUSSAN LEY: Agriculture needs to be at the table for the discussion, and the NFF and other farm bodies have stepped up to say that. When the rest of the world buys our products, whether it be our wool, whether it be our sheep meat, whether it be our amazing beef cattle that come from my region, they need to know that they have been produced in a way that is acceptable, is sustainable. The clean green brand that Australia is famous for, it's one of the advantages we have in the international trading market. But I don't see this as- I see this as a consultation, a collaboration, and you know, I'm excited when I talk to farmers in my area that are already adapting with the management of their soil, their vegetation, their production systems. They're not on the back foot; they're well and truly on the front foot.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Alright. Minister, we thank you for your time. Thanks so much for joining us.

SUSSAN LEY: Always a pleasure.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Environment Minister Sussan Ley.