Brands and manufacturers have a responsibility and commitment to change their strategies and operations to secure a sustainable and circular future for the industry. Ensuring sorted post-consumer textiles find the end-markets that would enable their cyclability into new textiles requires further awareness-raising, consumer engagement, testing and use of recycled materials.
Barriers and Recommendations:
The growing mountain of post-consumer textiles leads to an increase in the volume of clothing entering sorting facilities, of which a significant percentage is considered non-rewearable. These textiles have diverse potential to be reinserted into the market, but the  collecting and sorting industry first needs to be empowered by all industry actors before it can thrive.
What can you do to help?
Increase customer engagement by implementing take-back and/or repair schemes.
Take back garments once consumers no longer want to use them and partner with recyclers to high-value recycle these garments.
Partner with or consult experienced players in textile collection to develop and implement these schemes.
Several brands are already using recycled textiles on a small scale. However, the vast majority of them are not sourcing post-consumer textiles. On the other end of the value chain, there does not seem to be a strong pull from consumers to drive the industry to use recycled content in their products either. The interrelationship between brand offer and consumer demand may be key to the success of recycled content integration.
What can you do to help?
Communicate relevant information regarding the environmental, social and ethical performance of materials, products and processes to inform consumers' purchasing intentions.
Avoid financial incentives in take-back schemes that incentivise increased consumption.
Uptake recycled content firstly focused on quantity of products, to later focus on increasing the quantity of recycled content per product. This may support consumers' mindset change regarding recycled content.
Awareness-raising efforts and goal-setting are still not enough to drive a real shift in consumption and production practices.In order to gain momentum that drives significant investment in the collection, sorting and recycling practices of postconsumer textiles, we need to create more urgency to further develop the end-of-use value chain.
What can you do to help?
Set your own or align with industry-wide targets and commitments to close the textiles loop
Retrain internal teams on circularity, including but not limited to sourcing, design, marketing and management teams.
Communicate your targets and goals to consumers and engage them in personal goal-setting to translate purchasing intentions into changed purchasing behaviour.
Concerns with using post-consumer textiles mainly relate to the quality, consistency and availability of these materials. Nevertheless, several brands and manufacturers are already incorporating recycled content in their collections. Recycling technologies are also seeing a surge both in the amount of recyclers as well as the amount of materials processed.
What can you do to help?
Design garments that are durable (according to material health guidelines) and that can be recycled (today or in the near future).
Avoid the presence of materials that cannot currently be handled appropriately at their end-of-use.
Facilitate and/or lead value chain collaboration, partner with collectors, recyclers and mills to recycle these garments into new textiles at their end-of-use.
The lack of traceability of most textiles carries the risk of re-introducing textiles into the system which could pose a threat to product safety due to chemical contamination.
What can you do to help?
Assess the necessary requirements of the recycled post-consumer textiles in your products and communicate to recyclers which certifications and/or standards cover these requirements.
Invest in further research into the actual impacts of recycled textiles including but not limited to chemical composition, environmental footprint, labour conditions.
Build trusted relationships with partners and suppliers, while establishing clear agreements and expectations on the material supplied.
The demand, size and pricing parameters for post-consumer textiles' end-markets still present major uncertainties. While a few technologies for certain materials are already at scale, certainty on the future of recycled textiles remains limited. This is due to the relative immaturity of most recycling technologies, as well as brands and consumers’ lack of in-depth understanding of the availability and potential of recycled fibres and fabrics made from post-consumer textiles.
What can you do to help?
Invest and/or participate in the development and scaling of recycling technologies for pure or blended materials by partnering with recyclers.
Assess the potential to use recycled fibre collected from your own production waste together with post-consumer textiles to reduce costs and manage resources more efficiently.
To date, recycled fibre and fabrics made from post-consumer textiles are priced higher than virgin sources. This is intimately related to the higher costs required to process post-consumer textiles, as well as the low demand for them.
What can you do to help?
Conduct a long-term assessment of material pricing that takes into consideration the valuation of natural capital, resource scarcity and price fluctuations.
Increase market offer of recycled content in final products, to reduce pricing due to scale.
What are other sorters doing?
Bobbi Browne, American sorter, tells us more.
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