Sustainable fashion has been in talks for quite some years now. Hundreds of new ‘sustainable’ and ‘recycled’ textile and apparel products see light of the day every year which are generated from post-consumer textile/PET waste, pre-production waste and worn garment waste that get dumped/landfilled after their life cycle. This landfilling has been widely considered as an alarming signal and the apparel and textile supply chain has tremendously worked on the solutions lately.
According to a report of Fibersort, North-West Europe (NWE) alone generates 4,700 kilo tonnes of post-consumer textile and apparel waste (PCT) annually and just 1 per cent of textiles produced are currently recycled into new ones. On the other hand, it is estimated that around 80 million tonnes of textile waste is generated annually in the world, 95 per cent of which could be recycled. So, it’s clear that the need is there for the industry to escalate efforts towards recycling and whatever the companies are achieving today is just not enough. However, an understanding about textile recycling should be injected as this is one topic which, despite getting all hypes, falls prey to less technical know-how of the industry.
The inception of concept is taking right shape
The recycling concept started from the rising consumer awareness for sustainable products which pushes brands to look for such products from their vendors that leaves no choice for vendors/manufacturers other than to fulfill their needs. This is positively supported by technology suppliers who, with their innovative recycling technologies, are making things feasible for entire supply chain.
The most notable recent initiative towards this approach is the one taken by the Netherlands to strengthen circular economy concept in denim industry, wherein the Government has signed an agreement with 30 companies in denim industry that emphasises on the use of more recycled materials in denim products.
H&M recently made headlines with newly introduced sustainable fashion concept ‘Looop’ which is in-store recycling system for its customers in Sweden where they can transform unwanted garments or textiles into new garment pieces in the most eco-friendly way. It is one-of-a-kind recycling system that helps closing the loop on fashion with a container-sized machine that is born to encourage customers to hold onto old textiles.
Patagonia has developed methods to recycle old PET bottles. These kinds of recycled fibres are available in clothing lines of Armani Jeans, Eco-simple, Marks and Spencer. Levi Strauss uses eight plastic bottles to make one air of denim pant.
Nike has taken initiatives to reduce the size of the shoe box and the brand is monitoring the effluent discharged, recycling the cloth hangers, collecting the extra clothing from public, recycling and using the yarns for making new apparels and footwear. In collaboration with NASA, they have even designed various steps for clean production.
Below are some of the great but lesser known developments in this area in last couple of years:
- Parley for the Oceans, an organisation that raises awareness amongst brands and consumers about Oceans, partnered with adidas and collected the ocean waste to unveil a swimwear collection.
- BIONIC is one such fabric yarn made from recycled ocean waste.
- Repreve is another brand that markets yarns from PET bottles and reports convey that over 1,300 schools/universities/institutes in the USA are using graduation gowns made using Repreve recycled yarns.
- Leigh fibres launched Safeleigh that uses the cut scrap of protective clothing like fire men garment, bullet proof vest and mix with aramid (natural FR fibre) to create a clothing line that has flame retardancy as a natural character.
The awareness amongst western world’s retail firms is such that now Asian brands and manufacturing companies have also embraced the recycling concept lately.
Also Read: Time To Double Down On Sustainable Menswear
One such company is Shanghai-based Cheng Kung Garments which has adopted recycling concept strongly and is recycling its polyester fabric waste from fabric cuttings of its outerwear production. “We also provide our clients options to produce cotton uniforms with recycled cotton and we can also take their used cotton uniforms and turn them into yarns,” informs Vincent Djen, Director, Cheng Kung Garments told Apparel Resources.
Hong Kong-based Crystal International, the world’s renowned apparel manufacturing group, recently launched its 4Zero collection which is made out of sustainable fabric that includes recycled materials such as Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) recycled cotton and REPREVE recycled materials.
Sri Lanka’s Hirdaramani Group has been manufacturing garments using recycled ‘Ocean Plastic’ for some time no, while Debonair Group in Bangladesh has started establishing a recycling facility in 2020 to turn discarded plastic into yarn and fibres for manufacturing of outerwear.
India has also joined the league of such manufacturers and Pratibha Syntex Ltd., a well-known name in sustainable garment and textile industry, has established first certified C2C (Cradle to Cradle) garments collection and majority of the polyester used by the company is recycled.
Hong Kong-based sustainable clothing brand The R Collective recently launched its denim collection named The Denim Reimagined in which it partnered with The Levis Collaboratory that’s funded by the owner of the brand Christina Dean. The R Collective is working to reduce fashion’s climate impact and Levi’s supported its creative and experimental upcycling goals. Christina Dean told Apparel Resources that, apart from the funding, Levi’s provided them with access to common waste streams – that of aged inventory and irregular samples, so that the unique upcycled collection of the Denim Reimagined could offer a solution to one of the most pressing questions the apparel supply chain is facing: what should be done with excess materials?
Textile waste recycling and challenges in the process…
The speedy adoption doesn’t mean that the process of textile and apparel recycling doesn’t come without challenges. Instead, this industry faces challenges, ranging from mixed polyester, cotton, blended fabrics to hard-to-remove residues. When it comes to cotton textile recycling, the cost becomes a big factor as the cost of recycled cotton is higher than the cost of virgin cotton with no (or minor) difference in quality. Similarly, solving quality issues pose challenge in recycled polyester through contaminations of various additives like antioxidants, pigments, stabilisers or anti-blocking agent and shortening of the polymer chain at de-polymerisation stage.
Another big issue is achieving traceability and transparency in collecting, sorting and processing textile waste with social and fair conditions. Challenges are many so the industry has to utilise the available solutions precisely to overcome these issues. Automated sorting technologies could enable the industry to turn textile waste that currently has no other destination than downcycling, landfill or incineration into valuable feedstock for high-value recycling.
According to Vincent Djen, there are certain issues while recycling textile waste that have to be understood well technically before opting for the process. “For cotton textiles recycling, mechanical recycling is the most common method but the drawback is that the fibre is shorter so it is not suitable to make fine yarns like 40s or 60s. Now there is chemical recycling of cotton that turns these cotton textile wastes into pulp to produce viscose fibre. For polyester textiles, chemical recycling is still the option and able to produce high-quality recycled yarns,” explains Vincent.
Can ‘Rental Model’ add up to the efforts towards more sustainable fashion?
Filling landfill with clothing and textiles costs the UK alone an estimated £85 million every year, which is one of the largest figures of waste clothes in the world. On the flip side, the consumption of clothing is hugely important to the economies of many countries. Rental model can certainly make an impact to change the scenario.
Rent the Runway – a US-based online firm that provides designer dresses and accessories rentals – disrupted the rental market of clothing back in 2009. Over the last decade, the rental model has also been taken into use for other garments than designer dresses just to mitigate the adverse effects of overconsumption and the inevitable disposal of unwanted clothing that has become a global problem and, in many cases, clothing is unnecessarily dumped when it could be repaired or recycled or used for renting.
The rental model of Rent the Runway got more lights when it joined forces with Nordstorm, an American luxury department store chain, back in 2019 which enabled Rent the Runway customers to drop off their rentals at Nordstrom locations. Later that year in November and December, Nordstrom became a ‘platform partner’ with Rent the Runway to contribute inventory as rental service.
(The technological solutions to eliminate these challenges will be discussed in the second article on the Textile Waste Management subject. We will talk about three renowned technologies that are helping in textile waste recycling and contributing to more ‘Circular Economy Approach’. Stay connected.)