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Investment key to fibre-to-fibre recycling

New research suggests that 23% of low value post-consumer textiles collected in Europe has the potential for fibre-to-fibre recycling but this would require major investment and a suite of policy and industry changes.

The Sorting for Circularity Europe project conducted analysis in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom in what is said to be the most comprehensive and representative snapshot of the composition of post-consumer textiles (PCT) generated in the region. Using near-infrared technology to determine composition, researchers analysed a total of 21 tonnes of post-consumer garments.

Of the 2 116 000 tones of PCT collected each year in the six countries, 494 000 tonnes was considered suitable for recycling and fitting the current specifications of mechanical and chemical recyclers. This means that 23% has the potential to be redirected to fibre-to-fibre recycling, whereas the current total is just 2%.

A major hurdle identified by the research is that feedstock prices for current destinations (such as wipers) are more economically viable than those offered for fibre-to-fibre recycling.

‘However, this might change as current recycling technologies are scaled and further investment is made in order to integrate operations related to automated sorting and removal of disruptors to the sorting process,’ the report says. ‘Overall, a sound business case is required in order to retain sorting capacity in Europe.’

The report notes: ‘To support the retention and further development of this sorting capacity in Europe, policy and upcoming legislation will play a key role in ensuring the environmental, social and financial sustainability of these stages of the clothing and textiles value chain.’

Sorting for Circularity Europe is backed by Fashion for Good, an industry umbrella organisation supported by founding partner Laudes Foundation, co-founder William McDonough and a host of corporate partners including Adidas, Chanel, Levi Strauss and Patagonia.

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