The hi-vis vests of workers on the new Dunedin hospital site are set to have a second life as part of the building itself.

Hospital contractor Southbase Construction has united with Workwear Recycled, a company upcycling old workwear to save it from the landfill.

Workwear Recycled managing director Annie Light said it was about working together to help stop textile waste.

Recycling bins would collect cast-offs that would then be turned into Retex, a versatile substance that could be recycled again and again.

“We’ve just become the South Island distribution centre for Retex, which means that it’s all pretty much made of used clothing.”

It would be a “circular process” for Southbase, she said.

“We’ll get their clothing back and they’ll be turned into [Retex], and then they’ll use it in the hospital — and then it will actually go back into another whole product.”

Retex could be used in a range of ways, from flooring and insulation to acoustic panelling and stuffing.

It came in a range of widths and textures, and as hard boards could also be used for signage.

However, it was too soon to say what quantity would be used for the hospital.

After a longer research phase, the recycling scheme had been under way for about six months and was “growing and growing”.

Ms Light said it was great that hospitals and other places such as schools were starting to make changes.

From her experience running Timaru’s Work Outfitters store, she was aware of the large amounts of wearable gear used in construction, and was concerned where it would end up.

Workwear Recycled’s figures put the amount of clothing New Zealand sent to landfill at about 100,000 tonnes each year.

Globally, 85% of clothing materials ended up in incinerators and landfills, which created a disproportionately large amount of carbon.

Just 1% of clothes would be recycled into new garments.

Southbase national sustainability adviser Kate Butterfield said she was pleased with the move.

“I’m really excited — waste is such a problem in the construction industry”, Ms Butterfield said.

There were now two recycling bins on site at the Southbase office in Castle St — one for workwear and one for PPE — and she encouraged staff to use them.

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