Closing the Loop: 3 case studies highlighting the potential impact of high-value, textile recycling

February 3, 2017
Case Studies

The textiles industry has rapidly become one of the most polluting industries in the world

"We are using resources and producing waste too fast for the planet to keep up" - Helene Smits, Lead Circle Textiles, Circle Economy

Impacts of Fibre Production

The production of textile fibres is extremely water, land, energy and chemical intensive and relies heavily on finite resources.

To enable our increasing consumption habits, global textile fibre production has risen to ±90 million tonnes per year (the equivalent of ±80 billion garments per year). According to the report 'Sustainable Textiles for Apparel: Fact, Fiction and Future Prospects', a doubling in the number of consumers and an 84% hike in demand for textile fibres over the next 20 years will stretch resources to their breaking point. This level of production is both economically unstable and ecologically unsustainable.

Impacts of Textile Waste

Concurrently, aggravated by increased populations and a fast fashion model of production and consumption, the volumes of post-industrial, pre-consumer and post-consumer textile waste continue to grow year upon year. Today, 20 million tonnes of textiles are being landfilled or incinerated every year in the EU and US alone. An estimated 95% of all these textiles, could be re-worn or recycled (Source).

The Potential of High-Value recycling

How can we curb virgin fibre production and utilise textile waste?

We need to transition to a circular textiles industry.

In 2016 Circle Economy joined forces with our members Recover, ReBlend, G-Star RAW, ReShare and Wieland Textiles to test and prove the true potential of high-value recycling.

Leveraging untapped ‘waste’ streams to create new textiles on a large scale would enable us to drastically cut down our need for virgin textile resources and significantly reduce the negative impacts associated with virgin cotton fibre production and textile waste.

High value or textile-to-textile recycling enables leftover textile fabrics or garments that are no longer in use to be redirected back into the textiles loop as recycled raw materials, to create circular fashion

3 Distinct Challenges


Together with Wieland Textiles and Recover, G-Star RAW  and Circle Economy set out to try and prove the business and environmental case for high value textile-to-textile recycling of denim.  

The ultimate goal of project was to create new denim fabrics from returned G-Star stock, that can compete with virgin cotton denim on price, quality and aesthetics at a fraction of the environmental impact.

“We partnered with Circle Economy with the ambition to investigate further the potential for closed loop business models for G-Star RAW. The Circle Economy assessment was critical for us because we wanted to understand the business case of high value recycling of G-Star RAW returned inventory goods. As a result, we now have a better understanding of the process and can take informed decisions in closing the loop of these goods.” – Frouke Bruinsma, Director Corporate Responsibility, G-Star RAW


ReBlend joined the Circle Economy’s network to take their project to the next level, and push the potential of mixed post-consumer recycling to the next level. As a pioneering Dutch circular fashion and textiles agency, Reblend’s mission to show the world that mixed post-consumer textiles can be recycled into new high quality products, thereby making the case for closed loop textiles.

The ultimate aim of this collaboration was to demonstrate to the market that, through high-value recycling, post-consumer textile waste (>70%) can be transformed into high-quality, beautiful and unique  textile products, with a minimal environmental impact!

Recycling is focused on pure materials (100% cotton, wool or polyester). What we wear is mostly a blend of materials.  It is easy to see that this creates a huge gap between theory and reality! - Anita de Wit, Reblend


Circle Economy partnered with Salvation Army ReShare and Recover to explore how used workwear from the Dutch military could be given a second life.

The ultimate  aim of this strategic collaboration was to unpack the potential of workwear waste streams, and create commercially viable, high-quality products while at the same time achieving significant environmental savings.

“Ultimately, old uniforms, workwear and other used textiles should not go to waste but should be put back into the loop via high value (textile-to-textile) practises. We are happy that we can contribute positively to the circular movement in the textile sector through this partnership.” – Michel Rosenquist, Manager Relations, Salvation Army ReShare

Rising to the Challenge

Acting as a partner for all three of the projects, Recover's four generations of research and development in textile recycling has led to some impressive technical advances. The quality of their upcycled yarn is comparable to virgin yarn and is offered at a competitive price with a fraction of the environmental impact.

However their recovery streams used to recycling post-industrial clipping waste,that have been in place for over 70 years, account for only a fraction of overall textile waste globally.

“Closed loops in textile industries are closer to reality than many would think. The improving techniques of mechanical recycling and the endorsement of global brands and retailers, that realise the important potential for profit making, push the practices of high value recycling to become the new standard for the textile and fashion sectors.” – Isaac Nichelson, Chief Sustainability & Marketing Officer, Recover Textiles

Sensing a valuable collaboration opportunity with the ReBlend, G-Star RAW and ReShare projects Recover partnered with each company to take their collaborative capacity and expertise to the next level.

The Results

Results varied based on the challenge outlined, however some key learnings emerged. In the G-Star RAW challenge it was determined that recycled denim fabric has a price premium of 12.5% compared with virgin equivalents however, recycled denim fabric with only 12% recycled content already has a much lower environmental impact than its virgin equivalent.In the case of ReBlend almost 7 tonnes of post consumer garments were processed to produce 6 tonnes of new 100% recycled yarns. The Life Cycle Assessment on one of the recycled yarns (White Cream), completed by Circle Economy, concluded with the following results regarding environmental image:


Finally, the ReShare project successfully transformed several tons of old Dutch navy and army uniforms into new yarns that were used to produce humanitarian aid blankets. A reduction in water consumption, decreased energy use and a reduced CO2 emissions were realised, when compared to a non recycled yarn.

Read the full report

Our Circle Textiles Programme has a unique focus on end-of life and whole-systems redesign. The ultimate goal of the program is to achieve a zero-waste industry, by developing and establishing a commercial and scalable model for closing the loop on post-industrial, pre-consumer and post-consumer textiles. We collaborate closely with members of our member network and our community of collectors, sorters, recyclers, brands and cities to develop groundbreaking pilot projects, that can create best practices for the future.

To learn more about how your company can become a member of the Circle Textiles community contact us!

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