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AMSTERDAM – A new report assessed the opportunities for recycling of post-consumer textile waste across six European countries. The 16-month analysis concluded that 74 per cent, a total of 494,000 tonnes, of low-value, post-consumer textiles is available for fibre-to-fibre recycling. Conducting the analyses in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom, the project aimed to provide the most comprehensive and representative snapshot of textile waste composition in Europe to date.

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Launched in early 2021 and initiated by Fashion for Good together with Circle Economy, the project brought together key brands and industry leaders across Europe.

The report states: “The results point to promising opportunities for recapturing value while diverting textiles from downcycling and incineration. The results also inform brands of the best circular design practises to adopt, as well as textile collection agencies and organisations to build the necessary infrastructure and better educate and engage consumers on proper sorting and disposal practices.”

The project involved the largest industrial textile sorters in the European region; including the Boer Group, I:CO – part of SOEX Group, JMP Wilcox – part of Textile Recycling International, Modare-Cáritas, Wtórpol and TEXAID, placing key industry players firmly at the heart of the project. 

Using Near Infrared (NIR) technology to determine garment composition, traditionally a task performed manually, the project analysed 21 tonnes of post-consumer garments. On-the-ground examinations were performed over two time periods, autumn/winter 2021 and spring/summer 2022, to account for seasonal changes in the types of garments entering sorting facilities. 

Cotton was found to be the dominant fibre (42 per cent), followed by a large presence of material blends (32 per cent), almost half of which consisted of polycottons (12 per cent). Based on three characteristics, material composition, presence of disruptors, such as zippers and buttons, and colour, 21 per cent of the materials analysed were deemed suitable as feedstock for mechanical recycling, while 53 per cent were suitable for chemical recycling.

In addition to the report, two further industry resources, developed by Circle Economy, have been made available; Recycler’s Database, a database mapping textile recycler’s capabilities, illuminating crucial gaps between the sorting and recycling industry, and an open source Sorters Handbook to guide the sorting industry.

Building off the project, two open digital platforms, Reverse Resources and Refashion Recycle, to match textile waste from sorters with recyclers, have been identified as tools to further enable the connections needed to drive greater circularity in the years to come.

Following an assessment of suitable digital platforms within and outside of the textile industry, Reverse Resources have 39 active recyclers and 32 active waste handlers/sorters on their platform, while Refashion Recycle have 103 recyclers and 66 sorters onboarded onto their platform. This represents a large portion of the European recycling industry. 

“As fibre-to-fibre textile recycling commitments and policies increase, as well as the amount of textile waste collected, the infrastructure required to drive the move towards circular systems requires significant investment to scale. To make informed investment decisions, as well as assess the business case for monetisation through recycling, a deeper understanding of the characteristics of today’s European post-consumer textiles landscape is needed. This project lays the knowledge foundation that will enable key players to set into motion,” said Katrin Ley, managing director at Fashion for Good.

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