AWARDS FINALIST: NZAS – Giving old uniforms new life

3 Jul 2024

New Zealand Aluminium Smelters (NZAS) has extended its on-site waste management to include recycling of staff uniforms and safety equipment.

Faced with potentially sending 10,000 items of redundant uniform to landfill, NZAS instead formed an innovative and ongoing relationship with Timaru-based Workwear Recycled to deliver a better outcome.

The initiative, instigated due to a change in uniform for the smelter’s 750 employees, has been extended to include the new uniforms and other personal protective equipment as they need replacing. The smelter is also contributing to research on how products can be created from the waste clothing, including how steel-capped boots could potentially be recycled.

NZAS says the initiative is consistent with its waste minimisation strategy which already sees all waste metal, paper, plastics, and cardboard sorted and sent off site to approved organisations for recycling.

No material has gone into the firm’s on-site landfill since 2022.


NZAS says Workwear Recycled diverts the uniforms from landfills and transforms their textiles and components into useful products, thus reducing waste and carbon emissions.

Polycotton garments are broken down and remade into the likes of home insulation, acoustic panelling, blankets, and protective flooring.

Cotton garments are chemically broken down to cellulose powder, which is reused in a range of manufacturing processes, including new clothing and paper products.

Wool is reprocessed in yarn, and then remanufactured into wool garments and blankets. Plastic from safety glasses and hard hats are upcycled into drum spacers and fence posts.

NZAS says textile waste is a global problem and a significant contributor to emissions. About 92 million tonnes of textile waste is generated globally each year, with clothing and textiles constituting at least 7 per cent of all waste in landfills. Only about 1 per cent of clothes are recycled, exacerbating the environmental impact.

In New Zealand alone, about 100,000 tonnes of clothing – about 44 kg per person – ends up in landfills annually.


Amanda Smith, Waste Minimisation Officer for NZAS, says the partnership is a ‘win-win’ for the companies and the environment.

As well as reducing a significant volume of waste from going to landfill, and the emissions that would have created, NZAS has also been able to support an innovative South Island business, she says.

Workwear Recycled started in 2023 and has 15 partnerships locally and internationally.

“Partnering up with Workwear Recycled is such a win,” Smith says.

“Their mission to create a circular life by diverting waste from landfills demonstrates our commitment to doing what's right for both the environment and the community.

“We will be able to provide measurable numbers showing what we have diverted from landfills and the prevention of CO2 emissions by doing so, as well as what our uniforms were upcycled or downcycled into.

“To me, this not only helps preserve our natural resources but also respects our whenua, ensuring its wellbeing for future generations. I think it is something as a business we should be proud of.”

The Social Procurement Award category is sponsored by the BlueFloat Energy and Elemental Group partnership.