Scaling textile-to-textile recycling of used garments – the holy grail of circular textiles.
Circularity in textiles is an increasingly important topic on the industry agenda. Today however, this industry is still largely dominated by a linear business model, producing, consuming and throwing away more textiles than ever before. One of the three key components of a circular fashion model as defined by world circular textiles day in their 2050 vision, is for ‘Raw materials to be renewable, recyclable and safe, and to be kept in continual circulation.’ Effective textile-to-textile recycling of used garments plays an important role in achieving that vision and is considered by many industry leaders as the ‘holy grail’. It comes with a specific set of challenges to tackle, many of them systemic in nature.
Currently, worldwide only ±25% of discarded textiles are collected separately. Half of which are re-used and the other half going for downcycling. Less than 1% of discarded clothes are recycled into new ones. When collection rates will rise, like for example in Europe following regulation planned for 2025, a larger part of the additional textiles collected are likely to be of lower quality. Markets for low grade re-use and recyclable grades were already showing signs of saturation in 2018 and several key stakeholders have stressed the importance to develop and scale high value recycling routes in advance of increasing collection rates.
As a high value recycler, Recover™ has a key role to play in the transition to a circular fashion system. Currently, Recover™ mainly uses post-industrial textile waste as inputs for their mechanical recycling process. However, the company has set a clear goal to scale the recycling of post-consumer textiles and for this to represent ±40% of its feedstock inputs as it scales worldwide, aiming to process ±85.000 tonnes annually by 2025. At the same time, developments of several chemical recycling options look promising and are expected to have initial plants up and running in the next few years. Capital requirements for chemical recycling plants are significant. Leadership from global brands and retailers will be needed to drive investments for accelerated scaling and implement design for cyclability practises targeted to fit existing and upcoming recycling solutions.
While this is very encouraging, both mechanical and chemical recyclers face a similar challenge in their need to secure large volumes of suitable post-consumer feedstock. The existing textile collectors/sorters business models are tailored to sorting for re-use and downcycling markets. High value recyclers have very different needs with regards to sorting (composition, color, exclusion of garments with wax coatings, lurex yarns and so on) and pre-processing (removing rubber prints, care labels, buttons/zippers etc) of post-consumer textiles. To do this at scale in an economical way, new technologies and processes are required. Promising technologies already exist but scaled adoption requires disruption of the existing business and capital investments.
Scaled textile-to-textile recycling of used garments requires us to establish effective and economical circular supply chains to collect, sort, prepare and recycle the vast amounts of textiles that are discarded worldwide. Key drivers include ambitious policies and regulations that set new industry standards to promote collection, ecodesign, traceability, chemical management and other circular practises, strengthening of consumer education and engagement, support from the financial community to provide capital investments required and collective action of frontrunning brands and solution providers across the globe. Recover™ is committed to be an agent of change in this area, not only scale its own recycling of post-consumer textiles but also to help build the infrastructure required.
 Textiles in Europe’s circular economy. https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/textiles-in-europes-circular-economy
 A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/a-new-textiles-economy
 Developments in global markets for used textiles and implications for reuse and recycling (2018). http://mistrafuturefashion.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Mistra-Future-Fashion-2018.04-M-Elander-D.22.214.171.124.pdf