In relation to biology, ‘organic’ means to be derived from living matter and ‘waste’ is defined as the consumption or using up of materials. (Oxford Dictionary 2016a, Oxford Dictionary 2016b) Therefore, the term ‘organic waste’ refers to all natural materials such as food, paper and natural fabrics that are discarded through use and consumption.
In just one day at home I produced a total 762g of organic waste. 414g of cotton fabric scraps, 228g of vegetable peels and 120g of paper waste. In terms of approximate volume the textile waste took up the most at around 2000cm3, but at just 500cm3 the vegetable peels occupied half the space of the paper waste’s 1000cm3 despite being almost double the weight.
The largest portion of organic waste I produced was that of the calico fabric. This calico from India is a cheap, plain woven, unbleached, 100% cotton fabric most often used in the fashion industry as test garments before final fabrics and designs are decided. It is used in very large quantities, as the same piece of clothing will be tested first in calico repeatedly.
The final resting place for textiles discarded in with the usual rubbish items is landfill, just as it is for the majority of waste produced in Australia. Not only does it take up valuable space- landfill decomposing releases dangerous methane gas, which contributes to global warming, and the dirty liquid that seeps from landfill called leachate, which can contaminate ground water sources. Textile waste makes up an estimated 4% of all landfill in Australia, specifically contributing to the creation of methane and highly toxic ammonia, which is released by natural fibres decomposing. Synthetic fibres increase environmental damage through leachate and methane gas, as they remain degrading in landfill for a very long time. (Caulfield 2009)
The calico thrown out on this occasion was mostly scraps, but even the larger test garments I made with it are destined for the bin and eventually landfill once I have finished with them. What if my textile waste’s life could be extended to be more beneficial? There are a few alternatives to throwing fabric away, in Australia charities such as St Vincent De Paul, The Smith Family and The Salvation Army are well known to collect second-hand clothing in good condition to sell on or give to those in need. In 2012 charitable recyclers received an estimate 300,000 tonnes of donations, 48% was reused, 12% recycled, 40% was unable to be used and disposed to waste. (NACRO 2013) Although a large percentage of donations became landfill, 60% being put to more environmentally friendly uses makes charities a good means of making unwanted textiles useful.
But the calico fabric I discarded on this occasion were only scraps, how might they become useful? Consulting the City of Sydney’s Garbage Guru taught me through email that textiles can be disposed of in the compost bin. As long as the fabric is composed of 100% natural fibres it can be cut up into small pieces to aid decomposition and thrown into the compost among other kitchen scraps. It will take longer to break down than food scraps, but every little bit out of landfill goes a long way to reducing Australia’s organic waste problem. (Garbage Guru 2016, pers. comm., 1 June)
Caulfield, K. 2009, Sources of Textile Waste in Australia, viewed 1 June 2016, <http://www.nacro.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/TEXTILE-WASTE-PAPER-March-2009-final.pdf>
National Association of Charitable Recycling Organisations (NACRO) 2013, viewed 2 June 2016, <http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/0a517ed7-74cb-418b-9319-7624491e4921/files/factsheet-charitable-recycling-organisations.pdf>
Oxford English Dictionary 2016a, organic adj. and n.: Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford, UK, viewed 1 June 2016, <http://www.oed.com.ezproxy.lib.uts.edu.au/view/Entry/132431?redirectedFrom=organic+#eid>
Oxford English Dictionary 2016b, waste n.: Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford, UK, viewed 1 June 2016, <http://www.oed.com.ezproxy.lib.uts.edu.au/view/Entry/226027?rskey=2OhUhh&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid>