20% European textiles can be recycled to make fresh clothes

A recent McKinsey study showed that at least one-fifth of Europe’s textile waste could be reworked into new clothing. By McKinsey’s assessment, transforming 20% of old apparel into new would need kick-off investments of up to €7bn (US$7.5bn) by 2030. A huge amount is needed to build industrial-scale collecting and sorting systems and establish large-scale fiber-to-fiber recycling facilities across the continent.

Making a new product from discarded waste is nothing new in the textile sector example, the fight to recycle textiles may seem secondary in the panorama of ecological crusades, but it is not. Data from the Commission and the European Parliament show that the textile industry is responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions: more than all air and sea transport combined.

Recycling is an essential part of the circular economy that is developing globally. Basically, after consumption of garments, instead of throwing it away as waste, making it reusable or making industrial raw materials from them is the circular economy model.

Clothes produce greenhouse gases when they end up in landfills, so recycling them with Planet Aid helps reduce the forces that contribute to climate change. Reusing fabric in old clothes means fewer resources, both financial and environmental, are wasted on growing fiber for new ones.

A study by McKinsey estimates that a circular economy for textiles could become profitable and create 15,000 new jobs in Europe by 2030. And at least one-fifth of Europe’s textile waste can be reworked into fresh clothes.

By increasing the violence of fast fashion, some brands and the people behind those brands have caught millions of dollars in their pockets. Finiteness is spreading into infinity. The average lifespan of a garment is decreasing. The world is slowly turning into a wasteland of fashion. Carbon is increasing. Against this, slow fashion, eco-friendly fashion, limited upcycling and recycling, and thrift shop-like movements have started again. Let’s shed light on the sour and sweet perspective of the fashion industry and what we can do about it.

What actually happens when we throw away clothes? The BBC has published a report entitled ‘Why Clothes Are Hard to Recycle‘. According to that report, 73 percent of clothing is either burned, thrown away, or landfilled as garbage. 12 percent of clothing is downcycled into mattresses, cleaning clothes, rugs, linens, or other low-cost items. If only 1 percent is upcycled into new fabric – $100 billion worth of clothes are thrown away every year.

While charity shops, textile banks, and retailer “take-back” schemes help keep those donated fabrics in a wearable condition, the ability to recycle fabrics at end-of-life is currently limited.

Germany is the country with the least amount of waste in the fashion industry. They also recycle only 50% of discarded clothes to make new clothes. In 2016 alone, 1.1 million tonnes of fabric was wasted. The saddest thing is that 73 percent of it is pre-consumer waste. Means, those clothes were not bought by consumers or even if they were bought, they were not used. The amount of such old unused fabrics was 8 lakh tonnes. This was because the consumer did not have to go through the ‘out of stock’ experience, so many brands kept up to 10% surplus stock. But now a number of brands have emerged worldwide, who are working on sustainable and eco-friendly fashion.

Hansae Fashion Global: Making strong strides in sustainable fashion. For over 40 years Hans has produced sportswear, women’s and children’s clothing for some of the world’s leading brands. Now, Hansae is expanding its global investment and embracing sustainable design.

Challenges of textile recycling: Textile recycling is an evolving science, especially for synthetic constructions, which have relied heavily on chemical and thermoplastic recycling, since their infancy. Proper technology is lacking, especially when sorting collected clothing, separating blended fibers, separating fibers from chemicals including dyes during recycling, and establishing which chemicals were used in production in the first place.

Mechanical recyclability of pure cotton is already established. Economically viable technologies for chemical recycling that produce a high-quality recycled fiber are coming on-stream for polyester, nylon, and blends. Meanwhile, automated textile sorting, such as the Salvation Army’s Fibersort system in Kettering, will be essential in the circular journey – new yarn spinning fabric technology to provide companies with the right type of textile waste to feed into their processing.

Garments must be made with timeless designs and high-quality materials to ensure they last a long time. Focus on creating versatile pieces that can be styled in multiple ways. Work is being done to transform fabric scraps or old garments into new products, exploring upcycling and remanufacturing techniques to reduce waste and extend the life cycle of materials.

Promoting transparency throughout the supply chain, ensuring ethical and sustainable practices from source to production, and reducing the potential for waste generation. By taking these steps, the textile and fashion industry can make significant progress in reducing waste and moving towards a more circular and sustainable model.

Data needed for supply chain visibility: A significant hurdle is the data disconnect between fabric suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers, resulting in a lack of transparency about garment fibers, dyes, and embellishments. Commercial secrecy, as well as the sheer complexity of supply chains, means transparency is often hampered.

Digital ID and connected cloud platforms offer communication tools to help track items, impact data such as Scope 3 carbon emissions, streamline supply chains, and report on textile waste reduction achievements. Digital Product Passport is the missing link. In the future, more and more garments will link to a Digital Product Passport (DPP), either through a scannable QR code on a care label, or a hardware tag (such as NFC, RFID, or Bluetooth) embedded in the garment.

The 2022 report Accelerating Circularity in the US Circular Textile Economy, Accelerating Workforce Development, cites the potential benefits of RFID tags or QR codes on clothing to support textile recycling. Deadlines for EU legislation to meet sweeping climate targets – namely, the Green Deal and Fit for 55 – are fast approaching.

According to a Consumer Behavior Report 2023 (for which 6,300 global apparel shoppers were surveyed), 45% of European fashion shoppers said they were drawn to fashion brands using recycled materials in their clothing. A whopping 71% of global respondents said it was important to them for fashion brands to be transparent about their manufacturing practices. And 60% of global fashion shoppers see value in scanning a QR code on a garment with their smartphone to understand proper care and recyclability.

The big hope is that brands and government agencies successfully educate consumers about the importance of textile recycling, using Garment Connection and DPP technology. Growing public awareness must be coupled with appropriate investment in full-scale textile recycling facilities. We need a serious commitment from fashion brands to design with circularity in mind and embrace recycled fabrics. If this happens, it is especially possible to turn old clothes into new, scale, and it will look very good for all of us.

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