Post-consumer textile collection is step one, but then what?

April 6, 2017

A review of the current state of play within textile collecting and sorting: the Fibersort

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Only 0.1% of collected textile waste is remade into new garments. The take-make-dispose model of the apparel and textile industry is no longer in fashion, but what’s the reality on the ground?

 

The term ‘closing the loop’ continues to gain traction, from boardrooms to classrooms to living rooms. While the words are on everyone’s lips, we may well ask why we have not seen a significant impact on business as usual.  Why has the shift from a linear to a circular model been so fragmented, thus far?

The truth is, while the bigger ‘why’ of a circular textiles industry is now well established, the ‘how’ is still unclear to many.

In recent years, there has been a palpable increase in the industry’s focus on improving the 1) collection and 2) recycling of post-consumer textiles.  This work is spread across individual closed loop projects, and while they are achieving good results, these separate efforts can only amount to incremental change. The truth is, the industry currently lacks the broad foundation needed to close the loop for textiles. Without connecting the work, greater infrastructural bottlenecks will remain largely untouched. A systemic transition is necessary, and this will take collaboration across the entire textiles industry.

Post-consumer textile collection is step one, but then what?

The amount of textiles being produced and disposed of in inefficient ways is much higher than the amount that is collected and recycled. Recyclers throughout Europe indicate that only around 0.1% of all collected post-consumer textiles undergo high-value recycling. This means they are not regenerated into yarns, fabrics or garments but are downcycled into things like insulation – this is what’s happening to the vast majority of non-rewearable textiles, when they even make it to the recycling process in the first place. The aim of a circular textiles industry is to keep materials and products functioning at their highest potential for as long as possible. Downcycling should be a last resort.

Recent efforts of collecting and reverse logistics is one step in the right direction but not a complete solution. H&M came under fire from international press last year, with the leading accusation being that it would take the company 12 years to use recycled fibres from the 1,000 tonnes of used garments they aimed to collect during World Recycle Week. It is reported that in the past few years they have collected 13,600 tonnes of garments from consumers. This has led to a hard look at the industry today: If brands collect large volumes of post consumer garments that are mostly being downcycled, are they really doing the right thing?

Pressure has been put on companies and governments to sign agreements to improve their garment collection and recycling efforts. This initiative is good, but it is only part of the solution. H&M is off to a good start, and the world should take note, but the industry must now address the steps after collection.

The textile industry needs a solution for more efficient sorting of post-consumer textiles, and high value recycling technologies need a consistent and high-quality input for their processes. Until now there have been few options when it comes to supporting high-value recycling. We have actually been collecting more textiles than can be recycled into a high-value stream. The Fibersort, a technology that enables enable large volumes of post consumer textile sorting, is an exciting opportunity for the textile industry to get involved with and address this gap. It will lead to a tipping point for the high-value textile recycling industry and is a necessary part of the global infrastructure for a closed loop industry.

So how is Fibersort part of the solution?

An increase of low-quality fast fashion means the portion of rewearable post consumer garments is decreasing while the non-rewearable portion is on the rise. We need to support technologies that can tackle the growing fraction of non-rewearable textiles, and ensure that these precious resources make it back into the supply chain, at their highest value.

The Fibersort is a technology that automatically sorts large volumes of finished textile products by fiber composition. This allows them to be recycled into new, high-quality textiles. Because most current and upcoming high-value recycling technologies require fibres of the same content to be recycled together, content purity is a major barrier – or is it an opportunity? Fibersort offers quality assured feedstock to recyclers. Essentially, there will be more control over what goes into the recycling process which means the quality of the output is greatly increased.

Help bring the change

We have the technology and you have the perspective. Real change in our industry requires collaboration from us all! Are you a brand, retailer, manufacturer, textile collector, sorter, recycler or anything in-between? Do you want to be a part of something bigger that promotes the circular economy? There is a great need to address this current gap in high value textile recycling. Your feedback and ideas can help drive this innovation and bring change to our industry. Sign up to stay updated and informed of opportunities to provide your feedback on the development of Fibersort.

I want to be part of     this change!

 


On Thursday September 15th, the FIBERSORT project was announced as one of the few projects that will be funded by the INTERREG NWE programme for the next three years. With the support of INTERREG in the form of EUR 2 million, the consortium will further optimise the machine and demonstrate and validate this pioneering technology in the market.  The project partners will add an additional EUR 1.5 million in funding to the project. Contact jade@circle-economy.com for more information about the Fibersort project. 


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