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How Ackermans turns its fashion waste into building blocks

by | Jun 16, 2022

We all know fashion’s waste problem which is creating environmental problems. Now working towards a better future, Ackermans has launched an innovative solution to its fashion textile waste.  Along with Wastecrete, the popular South African clothing brand has produced a textile building block called F♻️BRIC.

Founded by Johan Coetzee and Schalk La Grange last year, Wastecrete specialises in using waste in different concrete applications. Realising the urgent need to adapt for a sustainable future, Johan and Schalk, both from the World of Decorative Concrete, have been working on developing future-fit solutions.

Johan is a structural engineer with several decades of experience which has helped him reimagine buildings in light of the climate crisis. For Johan, that begins with the most essential and basic component of construction. Bricks. With this in mind, Johan and Schalk experimented using different materials in bricks.

But it was only when Ackermans approached Wastecrete to help solve their textile manufacturing waste, that the textile waste brick was innovated. This then led to recycling fabric into concrete and the creation of the F♻️BRIC building blocks.

Ackermans now donates around 300kg of waste a week to Wastecrete.

Globally about 15 per cent of fabric used in the production of clothing  (known as pre-consumer waste) is cut, discarded and wasted. Most manufacturers either dump this waste at landfills, burn or sludge it.

F♻️bric bricks

Now at Wastecrete, Ackerman’s textile waste is shredded, mixed into concrete and baked, producing a building block that resembles the conventional brick we know and trust, but with a positive impact. These blocks are sturdy with insulated, fire-resistant properties, ideal for building houses. With the insulation these building blocks provide, homes will not require heating or cooling systems, and hence, they would be carbon neutral. The blocks themselves are also carbon neutral. Made of 70% textile waste, they help divert textile waste from landfills and give it new purpose.

Textile waste

While these blocks are made primarily from textile manufacturing waste, different waste can be added such as broken footwear or the ash from incinerated clothes. They open up new ways of managing waste.

Product technology manager at Ackermans Sanette van Huyssteen says, “Unlike a lot of recycling, sustainable initiatives, where there is always some waste leftover after the whole process, this process allows us to take all those scraps of fabric and offcuts and turn it into something useful.”

The concrete in the blocks gives them a 100-year lifetime, after which they can be recycled into new bricks or other concrete objects. These blocks have both a functional and decorative purpose. They can be used for building houses, pavements and even furniture.

“We hope to change the way people are looking at waste by giving new life to this waste as well as adding value to someone else’s life,” Johan says.

The project is still in its early stages, but Wastecrete is hoping to use these blocks to build houses and schools across the country. With homelessness and unemployment being a great concern in South Africa, this project seeks to alleviate inequality while working towards more environmentally conscious practices.

“The best part of this project,” Sanette says, “is that it doesn’t take away anything from existing sustainable initiatives, but it rather supports them by offering additional solutions through innovation.”

The shift to a circular economy stimulates employment. Wastecrete creates jobs along each aspect of production, from the collection of textile waste to the making of the blocks. This project is forging a sustainable future in South Africa, addressing both social and environmental issues.

Textile waste is a complex issue in the fashion industry, but it is not the industry’s problem to solve alone. We are all complicit in contributing to clothing waste – whether it is an impulsive 3 a.m. online purchase, or clothes that, quite frankly, just don’t fit anymore – textile waste is inevitable. But, just as we contribute to waste, we can be part of the solution too. Shifting to a circular economy requires a collaborative effort including managing consumption and waste.

So, ensure your waste doesn’t end up in landfill, but rather, that it benefits society. Donate old clothes to credible recycling depots or organisations, such as Wastecrete, where it can be put to a good (re)use. Hello F♻️BRIC.


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