Textile Waste Must Be Fashion Industry’s Next Raw Material

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According to studies, 82% of textile and apparel waste can be used as new raw materials. These are the logical industry feedstock – reducing the industry’s reliance on virgin materials, lowering water, energy, and chemicals.

A four-year study by the Renewal Workshop – which has worked with industry leaders, including The North Face and H&M Group – recently revealed that 82% of what is considered apparel and textile waste can actually be renewed and resold, effectively meaning brands are ‘sitting on their next supply chain’.

A second report, published by the Textile Exchange’s Accelerating Circularity project, takes a similar stance. The report states so-called spent post-industrial and post-consumer materials – the raw material for textile-to-textile recycling – are the ‘logical industry feedstock’. They have the potential to reduce the industry’s reliance on virgin materials along with lowering water, energy, and chemicals, while avoiding competition with other sectors for non-textile feedstocks.

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Sweden seems to be leading the charge in terms of innovation. The country is home to what recycling specialist the Sysav Group claims is the world’s first automated sorting plant for post-consumer textiles on an industrial scale. With a sorting capacity of 24,000 tonnes of textiles per year, Sysav says the newly-operational plant will revolutionise Swedish textile recycling and create new markets for textile waste.

Sweden also recently played host to the first retail model of the garment-to-garment recycling system pioneered by the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA). The Looop recycling system launched in one of H&M’s Drottninggatan stores in Stockholm, with consumers able to watch their old garments being broken down into fibres and yarns to become the raw material for knitted new clothes.

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H&M sister brand Monki is also flying the flag for textile-to-textile recycling, having just launched a new capsule clothing collection made using the so-called Green Machine technology – a hydrothermal system that can fully separate and recycle cotton and polyester blended fabrics.

Meanwhile, the UK Government has recently awarded £5.4 million to a consortium led by the Royal College of Art (RCA) to establish a Textiles Circularity Centre (TCC). This will explore methods to turn post-consumer textiles into renewable feedstocks and develop new supply chains.

Wright adds: “The future of the apparel supply chain is there for the taking. Fashion firms need look no further than what they have traditionally regarded as textile waste. Not only would such uptake provide an alternative to virgin feedstocks, it would be a big draw for this new breed of responsible consumers that demand ever greener practices from brands and retailers.”

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