Reforming old school clothes into new products


Mar 9, 2020

Reforming old school clothes into new products

Caption: L-R  Project sponsor Anne Thompson, Director, Sustainable Schoolwear, and Amanda Choy, Better Business Partnership of Willoughby Council,  with NSW Circular Economy Innovation Network Pilot Projects Manager Farshid Pahlevani.


  • Industry Partner: Sustainable Schoolwear, AMP Foundation (Tomorrow Maker Award winner 2019)
  • Research Organisation: UNSW SMaRT Centre
  • Facilitator: NSW Circular


Textile waste is fast becoming one of the planet’s most pressing environmental challenges. An innovative start-up is working to sustainability create durable, affordable, ethically produced schoolwear options that are healthy for kids and the planet.

Sustainable Schoolwear makes uniforms from recycled polyester and plastic bottles and textiles that have been ethically produced, but wanted to do even more for when uniforms are no longer needed or useful. They realised that one of the biggest issues is the sheer amount of uniforms ending up in landfill.

Hundreds of tonnes of non-wearable school uniforms go to landfill each year. If all 3.9 million Australian students threw away just one polo shirt each of their 13 school years, this would equate to over 8,619 tonnes – the weight of 206 humpback whales. This material becomes a redundant resource – unless it can be reused.

The solution

NSW Circular is partnering with Sustainable Schoolwear to show how old (or non-wearable) uniforms can be reformed into new, useful items.

NSW Circular has partnered Sustainable Schoowear with the UNSW SMaRT Centre where it is able to reform waste textiles and some plastic into ceramic-style flat panel building products to build school desks.

The Pilot Project used old school uniforms to test the creation of flat panels. The results are positive. The next phase of the project is to use the “school uniform” flat panels to produce a new school desk, and to replicate.

The pilot project is defining the process and capability for the diversion and upcycling of textile waste, with Sustainable Schoolwear partnering with schools, businesses and individuals to collect 10 tonnes of non-wearable uniforms.

The second phase of the project will model the capability to turn these non-wearable textiles into new objects or fibres.

NSW Circular and Sustainable Schoolwear want to demonstrate how to create something that’s fully circular, where kids can see that everything they use in everyday life, can potentially have multiple purposes.

Caption: Anne talks to school children about her work and the pilot project.

Why is this Circular?

This Pilot Project aims to divert the waste materials from their current destination of landfill, to be reformed and used as new materials and products for use in other applications.

Introducing value added products made from waste in this way, the project is able to demonstrate that waste as a resource can be valued, upcycled, reformed and reintroduced into a new supply chain, viable for commercial purposes.

Benefits & Outcomes

The outcome of the pilot project is to develop a proof of concept that shows how waste can be recycled, upcycled and reformed for other uses, and that organisations such as schools and any group can facilitate the uptake of technical recovery solutions in their communities.

The production of new products and materials from old school uniforms will form part of a community awareness and demonstration initiative, showing that high quality, unique materials made from waste can have uses within the built environment for applications such as furniture, floors, cabinets and tiling.

By demonstrating that these outputs have practical use and therefore commercial and industry interest, we can show that waste to product transformations are scalable, replicable and potentially commercially viable. The collaboration will lead to consider where other waste materials can be recovered for production and contribute to economic, social and ecological benefits to NSW communities.

Related information

AMP story about the work and project and video AMP awarded funding to Anne to help with the project.

Caption: Anne receiving the AMP award/funding from AMP Chair David Murray.



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