Farmer Sam Coulton on his property near Goondiwindi … his paddock “swallowed up” two tonnes of the shredded cotton material (Photo: Cotton Australia)

July 25, 2022

A 12-month trial on a cotton farm just outside Goondiwindi has shown it is possible to divert large amounts of cotton textile waste from landfill with no harm done to soil health or cotton yields.

The project collaborators are confident that with a solid business plan and more research, returning shredded cotton products to cotton fields could soon offer benefits to soil health, and a scalable solution to the massive global problem of textile waste.

“At the very least the trial showed that no harm was done to soil health, with microbial activity slightly increased and at least 2070kg of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2 e) mitigated through the breakdown of these garments in soil rather than landfill,” soil scientist Dr Oliver Knox said.

“The trial diverted around two tonnes of textile waste from landfill with no negative impact on cotton planting, emergence, growth or harvest. Soil carbon levels remained stable and the soil’s bugs responded well to the added cotton material.

“There also appeared to be no adverse effect from dyes and finishes although more testing is needed on a wider range of chemicals to be absolutely sure of that.”

Farmer Sam Coulton said the cotton fields easily “swallowed up” the shredded cotton material, giving him confidence this composting method has practical long-term potential.

“We spread the cotton textile waste a few months before cotton planting in June 2021 and by January and the middle of the season the cotton waste had all but disappeared, even at the rate of 50 tonnes to the hectare,” Sam said.

“I wouldn’t expect to see improvements in soil health or yield for at least five years as the benefits need time to accumulate, but I was very encouraged that there was no detrimental impact on our soils.

“In the past we’ve spread cotton gin trash on other parts of the farm and have seen dramatic improvements in the moisture holding capacity on these fields so would expect the same using shredded cotton waste.”

Around two tonnes of end-of-life cotton textiles from Sheridan and State Emergency Service coveralls were processed at Worn Up in Sydney, transported to ‘Alcheringa’ farm, and spread on to a cotton field.

Cotton Australia spokesperson Brooke Summers there was  keen interest in further collaboration from industry groups, government, farmers, brands and potential investors.

“There’s certainly a huge amount of interest in this idea and the trial results and while we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, we are hopeful that over time this will evolve to deliver a scalable solution for cotton textile waste here in Australia,” Brooke said.

“We’re excited to announce the trial will be replicated in the 2022-23 cotton season, with cotton farmer Scott Morgan’s Gunnedah property in NSW added as a second site. This will give us further confidence the results we’ve already seen can be replicated across time and geographies,” she said.

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Video by Cotton Australia:

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