Circular Economy

Leading brands looking to close the loop on fashion

Leading brands looking to close the loop on fashion

An Ellen MacArthur Foundation report says an increase in textile recycling represents an opportunity for the industry to capture some of the value in more than US$100 billion ($1.38 billion) worth of materials lost from the system every year.

The Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2017 report shows that most fashion brands have yet to realise the opportunities that accompany an increased focus on the end-of-use phase of the value chain.

The report calls for an accelerated effort to capture important resources from being wasted and to meet future resource demands.

Currrently, 87% of material used for clothing production is landfilled or incinerated after its final use. The world generates 92 million tonnes of textile waste annually, with an estimated increase of 60% to 147 million tonnes in 2030.

The material that is recycled from textiles is generally used in lower value applications, and when recycled materials are used as inputs to makes textiles, they come mostly from recycled PET bottles.

And while the industry moves towards incorporating sustainable raw materials such as bio-based materials, leading brands have also been increasingly looking to close the loop on fashion.

As of May 2018, 94 companies – representing 12.5% of the fashion market, have committed to participating in the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment, which aims to increase the use of recycled post-consumer textile fiber by 2020.

The companies have committed to take action on one or more of the Commitment’s four action points – circular design, collection, reuse, and recycling – and to annually report on the progress they are making in implementing their targets.

In addition, global giants H&M and Inditex (Zara) have committed to investing US$6.8 million ($9.36 million) and US$3.5 million ($4.82 million) in textile recycling technologies, respectively.

The fashion industry has struggled with recycling in the past, as post-consumer textiles are often made of blended materials, consisting of a mixture of natural and synthetic fibers, bound by various dyes and surface treatments, and adorned with decorative materials.

Past textile recycling efforts have been mechanical in nature – usually a labour-intensive sorting process to group materials by colour and material, and shredding and processing to produce an output of shorter and lower quality fiber.

In order to reproduce new fabric, this lower quality fiber needs to be mixed with high quantities of high quality virgin material, which is not exactly the most efficient process.

Recent progress in chemical recycling can now recover polymers or monomers from scrap textile, allowing materials to be recycled without any quality loss. These technologies have the potential to close the loop, allowing materials to be recycled an infinite number of times.

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