How often do you replace your bed linen?

woman changing bed linen

The average person spends about 26 years of their life sleeping, which equates to 9490 days or 227,760 hours. Surprisingly (or perhaps not, for some), we also spend around seven years just trying to sleep. That’s 33 years or 12,045 days spent in bed over a lifetime, about a third of our life spent between the sheets.

So, it’s certainly important to invest in a decent mattress, some good pillows and long-lasting sheets. However, many companies encourage you to purchase new bedding every two to three years. Even if there’s nothing wrong with the last lot. I understand wanting to switch up your duvet cover every now and then to brighten the room, but I tend to add the new one into the rotation rather than throw one away.

Typically, the average Australian discards 23 kilograms of textiles to landfill annually. But a 2020 report suggest this is much higher, it found that nearly 330,000 tonnes of textiles are imported into NSW each year, and about 305,000 tonnes are discarded. And only around 800 tonnes of the discarded textiles were recycled.

About 240,000 tonnes were sent to landfill, with the remaining 62,000 tonnes sent overseas by charities for reuse, according to the report by the Australasian Circular Textile Association (ACTA) for the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

Read: How often do most Aussies change their bedsheets?

ACTA CEO and founder Camille Reed said the research showed the problem had been underestimated.

“Rather than your 23, 27 kilos per person that has been used for the past several years, it’s closer to 39, 41 kilos per person per capita of textile consumption,” Ms Reed said.

The figures include clothing and household items such as bed linen, curtains and furnishings.

ACTA used the data to estimate that close to one million tonnes of textiles were being consumed in Australia each year, and the issue was probably being under-reported.

If we all listened to bedding companies and replaced our sheets every two to three years, I feel that this figure would be a lot higher. But what can we do to stop the message getting across that you should be throwing away sheets every few years, even if they’ve got plenty of life left in them?

Well, now designers are being urged to think about their products’ ‘end-of-life’ options so more can be recycled.

Ms Reed said industry, government and consumers all had a part to play in tackling the problem.

She said consumers should invest in higher-priced items and garments, as well as research companies and brands or ask them for information about their processes.

“We know once we purchase higher-priced goods, we usually keep them in our lives for a bit longer, rather than something that’s cheap that we see as quite replaceable,” said Ms Reed. “Brands, at this point, could be designing for end-of-life consideration”.

That could mean incorporating more sustainable materials and designing with end-of-life in mind for trims and hardware.

Companies stepping up to the mark

With many consumers wanting to make sustainable purchases that will last a lifetime, a handful of Australian companies are stepping up to the mark. Companies are trying to tackle textile waste by combining luxury products with resource-conscious reuse schemes and environmentally friendly business models.

“Half a billion kilograms of textile end up in landfill every year in Australia,” says Phoebe Yu, founder of Australian brand Ettitude. “And 95 per cent of this could be recycled.”

Ettitude has created a sustainable purchasing model where their products, made of a bamboo lyocell fabric, can be returned to them to be reused in their takeback program, Loop. The recently established program collects and separates lightly used and heavily used products. Those with light wear are donated and reused whereas the heavily used products are shredded into a fibre and reused in insulation or used to make comfortable pet beds.

“At this stage … we have not been able to turn [it] into virgin bedding yet. That’s something that we’re working on,” Ms Yu says.

Read: Bamboo vs Egyptian cotton

Bamboo is relatively new in the material world. But bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet. Certain species of bamboo can grow 910mm (36in) within a 24-hour period, at a rate of almost 40mm (1 1⁄2in) an hour (a growth around 1mm every 90 seconds, or 1in every 40 minutes).

Four types of bamboo sheets are available for purchase: viscose, lyocell, modal and linen. The first three are made from regenerated cellulosic fibres, or rayon. Bamboo linen is made very similar to common linen fabric.

Bamboo sheets feel soft and silky, and because they do not need a high thread count to achieve softness, they are very breathable.

The ‘perfect’ closed loop model would see the same materials used over and over again to create new products, keeping them out of landfill. Currently, Australia does not have scalable facilities to effectively turn textile waste into a reusable fibre.

Suzanne Toumbourou, chief executive of the Australian Council of Recycling, says recycling should be a last resort, arguing products must first be designed to live longer.

“In a circular economy context, recycling is the third tier down in terms of priorities to achieve zero waste,” Ms Toumbourou says. “The first necessary steps need to be avoidance and reduction, and then reuse and repair … You absolutely have to start in the design phase with the end-of-life in mind.”

Marcus Nelson founded Loop Home in March 2022 and says the key to driving customer support for sustainable products is about being transparent about the cost of the supply chain.

For Loop Home, environmental awareness starts with using organic cotton, as some research shows it’s gentler on the earth during both creation and disposal. Mr Nelson also hopes to open a warehouse facility for its Re-Loop program, which will collect used products (he expects them to last six to seven years), shred them to their original fibre components to create new products.

Read: Tips for being more sustainable at home

Like Ettitude, Loop Home will increase the range with downgrade products, such as rugs and throws, made from recycled fabrics from other manufacturers. His goal is to have a fully closed-loop product stewardship with an infinite cycle of fibre reuse.

“It’s [about] being transparent around the cost of the supply chain,” he says. “Consumers can then hopefully ask more of the people they deal with, which forces companies to lift their game.”

Leading brands have started to do their part too. Australia’s Sheridan launched a textile collection program in 2019 and has collected 100,000 kilograms of used linen to turn into new products.

A 2022 IBM Balancing Sustainability consumer report found that 77 per cent of consumers want to make more sustainable choices at home. A common obstacle is the higher prices of eco-conscious businesses.

Ultimately, consumers need to think in terms of ‘price-per-usage’ rather than choosing what’s cheap at the time. There are a lot of hidden costs in cheaper options, from having to purchase them more frequently to what it is doing to the environment.

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