Australia’s fashion industry must back a voluntary levy to clean up its act or the government will impose a mandatory one, the environment minister has warned.

Tanya Plibersek has detailed a new voluntary scheme to slash the mountain of clothing that winds up in landfill each year – about 10kg per person, on average.

Fashion companies will be asked to apply a four-cents per item levy, with that money to go into solutions to reduce the environmental burden of that waste.

But if the industry fails to back it, the minister will step in.

“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,” she said at the launch of the scheme in Sydney on Wednesday.

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

She said the scheme would have a year to establish itself.

The average Australian sends almost 10 kilograms of clothing waste to landfill each year. That’s roughly the equivalent of two winter coats, six pairs of jeans, three dresses, five t-shirts, a pair of shoes, and a bag of odd socks.

Multiply that by 25 million, and that’s a mountain of waste rotting in landfill where it releases harmful chemicals and microplastics into the environment.

Most modern clothing contains some element of plastic, and often garments are entirely synthetic.

Plastic is typically made from fossil fuels. Combine that with the energy involved in manufacturing and transportation costs, and that makes fashion waste a climate change problem too.

“Microplastics are now being found in the human bloodstream, in our organs, even in breast milk and placentas,” Ms Plibersek said.

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

She said the scheme would be focused on three main things: designing products that produce less waste, using materials ripe for recycling, and encouraging repair, remodelling and re-manufacturing.

It’s also about consumer education, and it will invest in systems to collect and sort textiles at the end of their life.

The scheme is being pushed by the Australian Fashion Council.

Source: AAP