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LONDON – A new report has for the first time evaluated the financial viability of using post-consumer clothing and textiles as feedstock for chemical and mechanical fibre to fibre recycling operations in the UK. The study models the finances for both chemical and mechanical fibre to fibre recycling processes for recovering polycotton and cotton respectively. It highlights the pressure points, and potential returns, and outlines the barriers to developing post-consumer full fibre to fibre recycling.

The study, carried out by WRAP, suggests that sorting used clothing using near-infrared spectroscopy may be critical to the wider development of recycling. It also argues that chemical recycling processes are commercially farther off than mechanical but may offer higher economic potential in the long run.

“The development of technical processes and more supply chain integration need prioritising to enable scale-up to a commercial size,” adds the report. “Collection and sorting are particularly important in the development of a post-consumer fibre2fibre marketplace. Demand from brands and retailers is essential, as is positive consumer perceptions of the use of post-consumer textiles.”

The report supports WRAP’s work to reduce the environmental impact of clothing under the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan 2020. Peter Maddox, WRAP director said: “We know that only housing, transport and food have greater environmental impacts than clothing, and with rising global demand we urgently need to secure new sources of materials and find new markets for used clothing. Fibre2fibre recycling offers a potential solution – but one that has not been properly investigated.

“Our report is the first to explain the economics of fibre2fibre recycling and will help investors, business-developers and the recycling sector navigate this relatively young, uncharted field. New processes and entrants onto the market should be monitored to inform the business case for future investment, but we already see potential for post-consumer textiles to become part of the UK’s fashion scene.”

The research was undertaken ahead of the anticipated global shortfall in virgin textiles. This predicts limitations in future cotton supplies, the UK’s most used fibre, with some projections suggesting a five-million-tonnes global cotton deficit by 2020.

In terms of fibres providing the greatest potential for fibre2fibre recycling, cotton and polyester (found in mono-fibre fabrics and polycotton blends) are the leading materials. These are most commonly used in clothing and household textiles, with as much as three-quarters of post-consumer recycling grades containing polycotton blends.

The report calls for further improvements in consumer messaging, and collection infrastructure, in order to increase the proportion of discarded clothing available for recycling. “Consumer behaviour also affects the quality of garments received, with excessive washing and tumble drying at high temperature causing damage to clothing and effecting the quality of the fibres recovered in mechanical reprocessing,” adds the report.

Full report HERE


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